TV Review - Hemlock Grove: Season 1

Landon Liboiron in "Hemlock Grove"
I didn't see this TV series when it premiered exclusively on Netflix in 2013. I didn't have much interest when the second season premiered in July 2014. However, it has done so well or well-enough that Netflix has announced a third and final season for 2015. Because I appreciate and in many ways respect Netflix and its accomplishments, I decided to give the series a chance and watch Season 1.

The series is based on the book by Brian McGreevy. It's executive produced by Eli Roth who also directed the very first episode here. The narrative is jump started with the brutal murder of a teenage girl named Brooke Bluebell, the night before the first day of school. The police suspect an animal killed her, while others suspect different things.

However, the crime is pushed to the background, as the show's real focus becomes these two weird families. One is poor. The other is wealthy. The poor family is a gypsy mother and her son who move into a trailer near the woods. The wealthy family is a mother and her two teens, a son and daughter both in high school, who live in a fabulous estate.

The son of the wealthy family is Roman Godfrey, played by Bill SkarsgÄrd. Roman befriends the son of the poor family, a slightly older boy named Peter Rumancek, played by Landon Liboiron. Their relationship is a major component. It's pushed along with the two trying to figure out who killed Brooke and stop that person from killing more individuals.

Sheriff Tom Sworn, played by Aaron Douglas, suspects Peter of the murder, so Peter's involvement is more to clear his name. In Episode 3, a new character is introduced. Her name is Clementine Chasseur, played by Kandyse McClure. She's a doctor who works for the government, under the Department of Fish and Wildlife. However, she's the one who pushes the idea that Brooke was killed by a werewolf and that werewolf is Peter.

Episode 2 establishes that Peter is a werewolf. Yet, he's not like the characters in MTV's Teen Wolf, or Seth Green's character in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Peter is more like the werewolves in True Blood. Peter isn't just an extra furry human with pointy ears. He turns completely into a dog that runs only during a full moon.

Yet, that supernatural element isn't that much of a thing. When Roman learns that Peter is a werewolf, it's a disgusting and gruesome moment but it's a fleeting one.

Given how many scenes follow the Episode 2 reveal with a shirtless or naked, hirsute Peter within Roman's presence, you'd think something homoerotic was happening. Roman's sexuality seems like it might be open to several things like sadomasochism. Yet, Peter is clearly straight and interested in Roman's cousin Letha, played by Penelope Mitchell, who learns in Episode 2 that she's pregnant.

Letha's father Norman Godfrey, played by Dougray Scott, thinks she was raped, but Letha insists an angel impregnated her. Letha falls for Peter in return. She finds out Peter and Roman are hunting Brooke's killer and she thinks it not a good idea. Beyond that, she's there to be Peter's love interest. The truth about her pregnancy isn't resolved.

The majority of the show is paced like Top of the Lake and The Killing. It's slow and methodical. Again, Brooke's murder is such a background thing. The real focus is on the Godfrey family and how weird it is. Norman is probably the only normal one, except he is having an affair with Roman's mom Olivia.

Olivia, played by Famke Janssen, is at times reminiscent of Morticia from The Addams Family. Her immediate family is very much like the Addams family. Roman is a tall, beautiful boy with very cynical sensibilities and a sardonic sense of humor. He's somewhat anti-social and has an odd, possibly Oedipal relationship with Olivia, possibly because his father died at a young age, and also because Olivia is very sexy, controlling and domineering a woman with a bit of a drug problem.

Speaking of Roman though, Peter isn't the only one with a supernatural ability. Roman has the same power as the father in Firestarter (1984). He can control people's minds. Doing so even results in nose bleeds just like the father in that Stephen King novel-turned-film. Where this power came from, why he has it and how he discovered it are questions never answered nor explored.

Just as Peter's werewolf ability is never explored. Roman is amazed by it, but he never really talks to Peter about it, despite the two of them spending so many waking hours together. It's not like Teen Wolf or True Blood where there's an established culture that the characters can discuss. There's an assumption that this series does have an established culture, but the choice is made to skirt over it.

We get some explanation of Roman's sister Shelley, played by Michael Andreae and voiced by Madeleine Martin. She narrates a lot of things through voice-over. She doesn't speak. She's freakishly tall and has a deformed head that's covered with a black wig that covers her main deformity, a bulging, right eye. She's the product of some experimentation. The Godfrey family owns a science laboratory that's run by Dr. Johan Pryce, played by Joel de la Fuente, who is doing some shady projects.

Episode 5 does have a snappy Joss Whedon-esque line, but other than that, the dialogue and indeed the action are lifeless. After Episode 2, things get extremely boring. Episode 8 takes a weird turn and puts Roman in a coma, which kills whatever momentum the show had and felt like just a tactic to fill the 13-episode count.

The ending is rather anticlimactic and builds to a moment that just comes out of nowhere. It feels like it wasn't properly built at all. It also feels like nothing is resolved either.

One Star out of Five.
Rated TV-MA.
Running Time: 1 hr.


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