Apr 22 2013 5:00pm

“This Is A Strange Town”: Hemlock Grove, Episodes 1-3

Hemlock Grove

When I reviewed Brian McGreevey’s Hemlock Grove last year, I described the novel as “a post-Lynchian melodrama,” a blurring of the line between Gothic and prime-time soap opera that, two decades after Twin Peaks, didn’t have to worry about audiences being confused by the intrusion of the uncanny. In a way, it’s actually just a natural extension of the melodrama—to crib from myself, “a genre of failed repression, [where] the harder you try to cover up the sins or the traumas of the past... the more damage they will cause when they finally erupt.”

The announcement that Hemlock Grove would be a 13-episode Netflix series came right around the time of the novel’s release, and I’ve been curious to see how McGreevey’s soap opera dynamic would play out on the screen. Well, all 13 episodes were released Friday, and I’ve had a chance to watch the first three, which I’ll share some quick thoughts about now... and, over the next week or so, we’ll catch up to the rest. A word of caution: I’ve definitely got spoilers for episodes 1-3; the comments are likely to reveal things from even later in the series. (Heck, I might not even read the comments until I’ve got a few more episodes under my belt....)

One thing I noticed in this early episodes is that the “boy detective” vibe I get from Roman Godfrey (Bill Skarsgard), the teenage scion of Hemlock Grove’s “ruling” family, and his Gypsy classmate Peter Rumancek (Landon Laboiron), is already stronger in the series than I remember it being in the book. From the moment they meet at the site of the first killing, there’s an emotional undercurrent between them—and McGreevey (working with Lee Shipman) doesn’t hesitate to underline the homoerotic possibilities. It’s already a running gag that Peter’s relatives will exclaim that his willingness to let Roman into his hidden life stems from never having a real friend before; every time, you’re half-convinced they’re about to say he’s got a crush on Roman.

Roman’s the rich kid, but Peter’s the one who knows things—even before Roman displays his mind-controlling capabilities, Peter suspects there’s something uncanny about him. Both of them can sense the evil lurking in the town’s background... and though their mutual decision to solve the mystery is rooted at least in part by Peter’s desire to clear his own name, it’s also a melodramatic standard. When their parents’ generation ruins the world—or, as Roman’s father said all those years ago, “I brought evil into our house”—and then try to act like it didn’t happen, it’s the children who have to deal with the collateral damage.

Hemlock Grove

The Godfrey family’s sins are spelled out early; we learn in the first episode that Roman’s father killed himself after, among other things, learning that his brother Norman (Dougray Scott) was sleeping with his wife Olivia (Famke Janssen). The affair continues to this day, although Norman is clearly not happy about that, and believes his sister-in-law and her son capable of just about anything... as when he learns that his teenage daughter believes she has been impregnated by a dramatically backlit angel.

So far, I like McGreevey and Shipman’s pacing. We get the question of whether Peter is or isn’t a werewolf out of the way before the end of the second episode; we have some hints as to the deal with Roman’s younger sister Shelley (Amazon Eve Nicole Boivin) although clearly we’ve just scratched the surface—and I loved the juxtaposition between the vocalizations Shelley can make and the inner voice that appears in her emails to Norman. And we’re still meeting new characters in the third episode, including Dr. Chasseur (Kandyse McClure), a “fish and wildlife” agent who, considering that she’s reporting to a priest before she heads out to Hemlock Grove, probably won’t be satisfied by Peter’s attempts to brush off her questions about lycanthropy.

Hemlock Grove

With ten episodes left to go, though, there’s room for a lot of plot twists and revelations—and quite possibly something other than a point-by-point adaptation of McGreevey’s original story. We’ve already seen the addition of a few new wrinkles... and not always effective ones. As in, the police know the first victim’s iPhone was on when she was killed, but we’ve never circled back to the character on the other end of the call? (Granted, that was probably just a bit of titillation, but still.)

Is the series goofy in spots? Sure, and that’s not necessarily mitigated by the fact that it knows that it’s goofy—on the other hand, it’s not necessarily a problem, either. Which is a point I’ll probably come back to once I’ve got more episodes under my belt... In the meantime, though, what do you think?

Ron Hogan is the host of The Handsell with Ron Hogan &..., a video series where authors and independent booksellers offer reading recommendations based on the books you already love.

Sean Fagan
1. sef
It's a weird show so far -- a bunch of details about the world not being shown to us. They made it a supernatural show pretty quickly.

The number of flashbacks in the first two episodes was horribly confusing -- I was never sure when the time was. And the lighting and sets keep making me think that it's set in the 80s, or even 70s, and then they have widescreen LCD tvs in the bar.
2. Abra
That's not Amazon Eve playing Shelley Godfrey, that's Nicole Boivin and Michael Andreae.
Tudza White
3. tudzax1
So the guy who isn't a gypsy is called Roman?
Ron Hogan
4. RonHogan
@Tudzax1: Yep. Wacky, right?

And, thanks, Abra -- fixing that now!
5. tess whalen
I agree. I hate when they show things like the teacher on the phone when the girl died but they never get around to following up on it. Their are too many plot holes, making the series difficult to follow. In all honesty it makes me want to read the book and forget about the show. The story on paper always seems to be better..
Scott Silver
6. hihosilver28
I watched the first two episodes two nights ago and will not be continuing. I thought it was terrible. Hammy acting, massive plot holes, plot driving the characters-not characters driving the plot, the dialogue is stilted and purple at the same time, and characters know things that they have no way of knowing. It does have one of the coolest werewolf transformations that I've seen, but it's not enough to redeem the show for me. I'm not as down on it as the AVClub is, but I didn't enjoy my time in Hemlock Grove and it's unlikely that I'll return to visit.
7. Dana Hayden, M.Ed.
Don't let the gore get you to quit watching it. I am not a fan of slasher movies but the gore in this is intregral to the story line.
In order to get the whole story it is best to watch all 13 episodes in a row before trying to figure out the entire plot. Most of the "holes" get filled but the ones they left open-ended will probably lead to a second season for the series.
Watched all of them since yesterday and am interested in what others are getting out of the series, thanks for sharing your interpretations.
Constance Sublette
8. Zorra
How does it compare / contrast with Top of the Lake?

Nothing I've read so far about Hemlock Grove has tempted me to watch it.

Love, C.
Scott Silver
9. hihosilver28
I've only seen the first episode of Top of the Lake so far, but you could not have picked two vastly different shows to compare and contrast. HG is really campy and (in my opinion) not very well written at all. Top of the Lake is more subdued and in line with The Killing. I'll put it this way, I'm going to finish Top of the Lake, I am not going to finish Hemlock Grove. But you may enjoy it.
10. Desiree
I don't care what you people say that show is amazing and they need more seasons and episodes and more of it all it was awesome
11. Usagi
OMG! I loved it soooo much. I am buying the book right now. I love how it keeps you guessing and I hope they make a second series with the second book or they can do what True Blood and Dexter did and just go their own way.
12. Harris29
Amazon Eve is in the first four episodes, as the stand in for Shelley, but during episode 5 she was replaced with Michael Andreae. She didn't do any of the promo stuff and I can't find any evidence she walked the red carpet at the series premier. Her website hasn't said anything either so, my best guess is she was fired.
13. 6354alex
After episode three it gets sooooo amazing, some scenes are still ham fisted but for the most part it becomes a great series!
16. prembo
Strange reactions--Sometimnes its best to come to something as I did with no knowlege. I was blown away by the very high production values the sets, the timing the editing-its far ahead of the usual cliches of this genre and Famke was made for her part. There is a lot of love in what would have been an average gore movie.The scene where the rich kid washes his sisters feet as the tremelous, tentative sister song by Perfume genius echos the emotions nearly had me in tears.
There are many such moments which stop this being an average werewolf movie , the care and knowledge Peters mum and cousin bring to his condition/ we realy see him as a person and very much loved.
The comments seem to miss the way in which the characters are fleshed out by the way other people treat them. I see no hammy acting two realistic kids in a very taut situation. Even the sheriff is spot on-I am a professional producer trained by the BBC but my reactions are those of an ordinary google eyed kid at the movies. It only sounds analytic when I explain it. This a great assett to the genre -rock on Mr MacGreevey oh yeah I am not a fan of flahback within flashback but what the hey theres enough good stuff oh where did you get the cash to do this!!!
17. GACE8
I'm guessing Amazon Eve (a.k.a. Erika Ervin) was let go because they found out she was transgender. Happens all the time in these new series--she couldn't hide in a background check that they perform thoroughly on the cast. They don't want to gamble, nor attach any messaging that may detract for the PR of the show. She used to be some political advocate for transgender rights. It's a shame. She was perfect for the part based on the write-ups I've seen.
18. FedericoVan
In Episode 3 when the "writer girl" runs into the corpse in the woods, she drops the things she was carrying...a can of coke...a small black notebook and size "magnum" trojan condoms! WTF?
19. Daniel Butierez
How did the producers not know the transgender was a man. Hell I knew it when she walked onto the screen.

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