The very best thing about Hemlock Grove was the music that played at the end of each episode and that the theme music made me think about Dexter. Hands down my favorite parts of each episode.
There’s a part of me that doesn’t want to be extremely critical of this offering. I like the direction non-television entities are taking. Online episodic storytelling has long been the red-headed step child of television. Then these same shows began to be taken seriously. Consider Web Therapy, a Lisa Kudrow helmer that moved to Showtime after starting online. Actors, developing production companies, and fledgling storytellers all had a way to get their stories out there without studio intervention, sometimes to their benefit, sometimes to their detriment. I want to see shows like Hemlock Grove succeed. Developed by Brian McGreevy and Lee Shipman, executive produced by Eli Roth and produced by Gaumont International Television for Netflix, the entire first season (or only season, depending on how you feel about the show) of 13 episodes was released for viewing online. It was based on the book of the same name by Brian McGreevy.
As for the show, I am loathe to say that I never caught all of Twin Peaks. It premiered during my freshman year of high school, at a time when the battling calls of books, responsibility (at home and school), and television took my time. Of course I heard of Laura Palmer, and I might have even seen the pilot episode, but I was not able to keep up with the show when, at the tender age of 14, I had too many irons in the fire. I heard a lot of lunchroom talk about the show (the prequel to watercooler talk), but was never really able to get into it. I wonder if this is why I was not a big fan of Hemlock Grove. Not having my campy horror palate cleansed by the widely acclaimed series, I come into Hemlock Grove with all the newness of a babe. A babe that sat back in wonder as confusing storylines, bad acting, and shifty quasi-explanations began to run amok over 13 episodes. Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot going on in the first two episodes that made the remaining 11 seem like they could be promising. In my eyes, after thousands of hours of television, they did not fulfill the promise.
Hemlock Grove tells the tale of murder, lust, drugs, and blood, mainly through the Godfreys and Rumanceks. We meet Roman Godfrey, the bad boy, heir apparent, and provocateur, with a prostitute and discover his weird preference for blood. Roman’s mother, Olivia Godfrey, and his uncle, Norman Godfrey, run the Godfrey Institute after Olivia’s husband, his brother, killed himself. Peter Rumancek and his mother Lynda move to town just as a girl was killed by a vicious animal. Peter is a werewolf, and the only person who sees it, Christina Wendell, is crazy in her own right. There’s a lot of weird in the town, including Roman’s sister, Shelley, an 8 foot tall woman with glowing skin and one eyeball much larger than the other, possibly the result of experiments at the Godfrey Institute and their cousin Letha Godfrey, who is impregnated by an angel. When another grisly animal attack happens, Sheriff Sworn and Fish and Wildlife officer Clementine Chasseur (both Battlestar Galactica alums Aaron Douglas and Kandyse McClure) are after the killer, though Chasseur is hiding much more than anyone expects concerning the killer’s possible identity. There are a lot of secrets, most of them held by Godfrey Institute’s Dr. Johann Pryce, and we are taken along for the bumpy ride through 13 episodes of horror, sex, and mayhem. As the story progresses, we see the good and bad side of each character, their motivation, and as the show shuffles through sex, drugs, and gore to the finale, we finally confront the killer, but more than that, the secrets and the lies we have been kept from knowing until the end.
I can’t say that I’m a complete virgin to campy horror. I know True Blood is in another realm because only David Lynch can do David Lynch, but the first couple of seasons of True Blood hit the right tone for this sort of thing. Mysterious, crazy things happening that eventually brought an explanation, etc. I don’t know how many times I had to rub out the confused wrinkle in my forehead as one thing after another just didn’t make sense in Hemlock Grove. So, instead of going into the many, many things that I didn’t like, I’ll talk about the things I did.
Clementine Chasseur. A member of the Order of the Dragon, as far as we know, hers was a religious order designed to hunt down werewolves. I’m not sure if other supernatural beings fell into her perview, but she certainly could tell that something was not right with the town’s patron bitch, Olivia Godfrey, played by Famke Janssen. A friend said to me that Olivia Godfrey was his favorite character because she was a character you loved to hate. If that was what her character was all about, then she did a great job. It was great to see Kandyse McClure again. I loved her as Officer Dualla on Battlestar Galactica as well.
Peter Rumancek. Don’t get me wrong, he had his moments, the long sigh, eye-roll-inducing moments, but of all of the actors, besides Penelope Mitchell’s Letha Godfrey, he was the most natural acting cast member. He laughed easily, his moments felt real. From being accused of being a werewolf, to feeling beholden to the first person that acted as his friend, to being in love, each moment felt real, the reactions felt right. If ever I found myself alone in the abyss of bad writing/acting, I felt sure that a Peter Rumancek moment would pull me out.
Letha Godfrey. Penelope Mitchell played the character well. She was young, not taken with the money or family name. She handled being pregnant by an angel well and her relationship with Peter Rumancek felt like something real. You feel like they could find a way to be together, despite Roman’s overt overprotective attitude towards her and Norman’s outright disapproval.
Shelley Godfrey. Despite trying to make her seem beastly, one character says that Shelley shined a light on everyone and revealed who they were, whether good or bad. Despite Roman’s “ugliness”, when he was with Shelley, he was the best he could be. Others saw it as well, including the waitress at the country club. I liked the character because she gave some insight in her letters to others, but I also think that she, as a character, did the most in moving the storyline along.
Overall, Hemlock Grove was not my favorite. If given a second chance to re-watch to find the moments I might have missed, to search for clues, or to try to understand some of the more head scratching moments, I would rather just watch Twin Peaks and see how it should have been done. The bad moments in Hemlock Grove were unforgivably bad, and the good moments didn’t make up for it. The werewolf transformation was pretty sweet though and offers some insight that makes a lot more sense in the werewolf transformation world, although I do have to give a shout out to the BBC’s Being Human for getting us closer to Hemlock Grove’s reimagined transformation. That part was excellent. I hated how long they danced around the vampire theme, although there is some fascinating insight and something new in vampire mythology that plays well with the ending revelations.
You should watch it to form your own opinions, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you came away feeling the same way I did, which is thoroughly disappointed. However, I hope this doesn’t put a damper on other outlets creating episodic television and though I like the mystery or a single episode at a time, I think putting all 13 online was the only thing that saved this show from being a complete waste of time.