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Hemlock Grove’ is a misstep for Netflix

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The Details

Hemlock Grove
Season 1 streaming now on Netflix
Two stars

If House of Cards is Netflix’s attempt to replicate high-minded cable dramas like The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men, then Hemlock Grove is its version of gleeful trash like True Blood and Dexter. With horror filmmaker Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel) in a similar capacity as David Fincher was for House of Cards (as executive producer and director of the first episode), Hemlock Grove sets up a world of werewolves, vampires, angels, mutants and mad scientists, all contained in one small Pennsylvania town. But the result is more comparable to something like The Secret Circle or MTV’s Teen Wolf, a poorly written teen soap with weak production values and questionable acting.

While House of Cards has Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, the biggest names in Hemlock Grove are Famke Janssen (affecting an inscrutable, atrocious accent), Dougray Scott and Lili Taylor, all of whom take supporting roles to Bill Skarsgard (brother of True Blood’s Alexander) and Landon Liboiron, as the frequently shirtless teenage duo attempting to track down the murderer of a number of local girls. Liboiron’s Peter is a werewolf, and Skarsgard’s Roman is an upir (a kind of vampire), but they’re (mostly) good guys, determined to stop the mysterious threat that’s been eviscerating pretty high schoolers.

Their mission progresses incredibly slowly, and the show throws in all sorts of dead-end subplots along the way. After watching four episodes, I didn’t have any greater understanding of the mythology or the various characters’ motivations, and all of the real action of those episodes could have been condensed into a single installment. The supposed benefit of Netflix’s broadcast model is that every episode of a show is available at once, so interested viewers could barrel through all of Hemlock Grove in a day, getting past where I gave up and discovering answers to the show’s half-hearted mysteries. But that model also makes it easier to give up, to realize that none of the potentially intriguing developments is going to come to fruition. Netflix has worked hard to make each of its series premieres seem like an event, but Hemlock Grove is one long anticlimax.

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