Netflix proved that a quality television show doesn’t need to be aired on a network in order for viewers, and critics alike, to adore it. Earlier this year, at a Media & Telecom Conference in San Francisco, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said that he wanted Netflix to be like HBO before HBO became like Netflix. This had double meaning, in regards to both HBO’s online offerings with HBOGo and their original programming. Hastings predicts that as much as 40% of Netflix’s offerings will be original, with the remaining 60% coming from outside sources.
If you watched House of Cards, Netflix’s second originally produced series, you’d think that Netflix was on the right track. It was a hit with both the fans and reviewers. Because of this success the anticipation for their third original series, Hemlock Grove, was high. Based off a novel released in 2012, Hemlock Grove follows the story of a small Pennsylvanian town gripped by mysterious murders, and two unique high school boys who set out the solve the case.
From the onset it’s clear that the producers are making a show that could compete with anything on HBO. Viewers are treated to a little taste of nudity, drug use, and a gruesome death that sets the tone of the series. All the while though you’re thinking to yourself, why does this look like it was filmed by a high school student. The production values are inconsistent throughout the first four episodes. Camera filters create scenes with soft lighting, giving the impression of something you’d see taped on video in the 1980’s. Some interior scenes have that look of a soap opera, with the fake lighting, but worse. It’s almost as if they hired the Lighting Tech right out of high school. It had an air of an after-school special to its appearance, but worse.
Then there’s the script. To its credit, Hemlock Grove tries to be more like a murder mystery with supernatural tones than a supernatural fantasy show. It’s not a bad thing per se, but the set up of the show ensures that you need to watch a few episodes before you realize it. And for a 13 episode series it takes an extremely long time to understand what exactly you are watching. To say it drags on is an overstatement. Unfortunately the dragging creates a lot of unnecessary dialogue, and most of it is bad. Cringe worthy bad. For example… “That woman is what she says she is like a Mexican hates fireworks.” Huh?? In turn, it produces some terrible acting. So you see, a bad script can turn good actors into bad actors.
One thing that surprised me was the quality of actors that were announced for the show. From the beautiful Famke Janssen and Kandyse McClure, to Dougray Scott and Lili Taylor. There’s no shortage of well known actors. Then there are the two main leads, played by Landon Liboiron and Bill Skarsgard (brother of Alexander Skarsgard of True Blood fame and Gustaf Skarsgard appearing on Vikings) have appeared in a few shows, but remain relative unknowns. Fans of the now cancelled Fox show Terranova will recognize Liboiron as the son Josh Shannon. And if you liked in him Terranova you’ll like him in Hemlock Grove, because his portrayal of the character is exactly the same. You could interchange the two characters and you wouldn’t skip a beat. I think it says more about his acting ability than it does the script. On the other hand, Skarsgard does a decent job, but it’s a stereotypical portrayal of brooding youth.
But my biggest gripe with the acting are the accents. What? The accents? Why yes. From Janssens terrible accent, a cross between Pennsylvania Dutch and a general British accent (as in you know it’s from the UK, you just can’t tell where) to Skarsgard’s on again, off again Swedish accent. It’s extremely noticeable, and throws you off track. Then there’s the misshapen Shelley’s interactions with her uncle (played by Dougary Scott) through instant messenger, they’re done as a voice-over and make her sound like you’re listening to a Victorian woman reading a letter to her husband off at war. This can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the producers, because I refuse to believe that they would allow something like these accents to occur without signing off on them.
Perhaps the biggest thing the show suffers from is its pacing, and maybe part of this could be blamed on the fact that it’s a show that knows that it’s being released all at once. All 13 episodes are available for viewing immediately so viewers can rush through the series in one or two sittings if they wanted to. Where as the majority of shows have a week in between new episodes, allowing for viewers to digest what happened, Hemlock Grove could literally have seconds. The format of the Netflix shows doesn’t allow viewers to flesh out what just happened, or imagine why someone like Peter has never had a friend before. Presenting the whole season at once seemed like a good idea, but it’s execution didn’t pay off.
You know the old saying, it’s so bad it’s good. Yeah, throw that one out the window because it doesn’t apply here. From the terrible writing, to the poor acting and poor production, Hemlock Grove just doesn’t cut it. There are few redeeming qualities, yet for some ungodly reason I need to know what happens to the characters. Thankfully since Netflix released all 13 episodes at once I can easily watch the last episode and find out what happened. Yet there’s some part of me wanting to torture myself into watching the rest of the series. I need to know the little things that happen in the story. Maybe the producers do know what they’re doing…
Yet despite the critics and all my grievances with the show, Hemlock Grove has proven to be a hit for Netflix. In a conference all with analysts on April 22nd, Hastings proclaimed that the show is “getting viewed by even more subscribers in its first couple of days” than the critically acclaimed House of Cards. And why not, werewolves, vampires and the supernatural are a popular genre these days. It’s just a shame very few can pull off a quality show about it.