The big news in the world of premium television lately is that Netflix is offering more original programming. Their recent show, House of Cards, made a big splash—even though it wasn’t the first time Netflix released original content—perhaps because it was statistically likely to succeed.
The two reasons why I watched House of Cards were because I wanted to see what Netflix’s original programming was like, and hey, I like Kevin Spacey. Even though the pacing of the show was a little slow at times (which is the number one complaint I hear from people who disliked the show), it held my attention through the entire season. I plan to watch the second season when it comes out.
I watched the trailer for Netflix’s newest show, Hemlock Grove, and thought it looked kind of interesting. Even though horror is not a genre I typically like, I decided to give it a shot. After all, I think it’s pretty cool that Netflix is moving in this direction. But where House of Cards succeeded, Hemlock Grove, has utterly failed.
The first season of Hemlock Grove, has 13 episodes. I watched six before I gave up completely. By the end of the third episode, I was already contemplating quitting the series. I decided to give it a couple of more episodes, and near the end of the fifth episode, I was sure I was done. The only reason I watched the sixth episode was because of the cliffhanger-esque ending of the episode before it. But when the sixth episode failed to deliver, I removed Hemlock Grove from my instant queue and haven’t looked back.
What Went Wrong?
The cynical among you may say that my distaste for horror films contributed heavily to my negative review of this show. I assure you, my typical aversions to horror have no bearing on what I found to be at fault in the episodes I saw. Where to begin?
I should probably point out that there are spoilers ahead.
For the most part, I hate these people. I only like two of the characters, and one of them is a fairly minor character. This feels like Heroes all over again; there are only a handful of characters I care about, and when I’m not watching them, I’m bored. I couldn’t care less about Olivia, or Norman, or Dr. Chausser. Just show me what’s going on with Peter or Christina and I’ll be happy.
I think we’re supposed like Roman, and possibly Letha, but I don’t. I don’t dislike them; I simply don’t care about them. Shelley is kind of interesting, but we hardly ever find out anything about her.
I’ll admit upfront that this one might be a bit nit-picky, but the show’s use of archaic language is, in my opinion, very pretentious. I mean, come on, no one in this country says upyr to refer to vampires, especially when they say werewolf instead of lycan or lycanthrope.
The Questions… Oh God, the questions!
Remember how Lost posed a ton of questions and we wanted the answers, but the show wouldn’t give them to us all at once? I feel like Hemlock Grove is trying to do the same thing, but failing completely at it.
I have a ton of questions, but the show has answered very, very few. Worse still, each episode just leaves me with new questions and an increased sense of frustration as none of my old ones get answered.
Just give me a hint! Give me a small-but-confusing piece of an answer! At least confirm a suspicion or two!
I’ve tried to think about how Lost got away with it, but it’s been so long since I’ve seen the show, I can’t remember. Did we get at least a few questions answered? Were there just more compelling characters? Did seeing a scantily clad Evangeline Lilly cause temporary amnesia? I don’t know for sure, but whatever Lost did right, Hemlock Grove was unable to emulate it.
The Confusing Editing
As a filmmaker, this one bothers me a lot. We are often shown establishing shots of building exteriors. The problem is, we have little to no frame of reference for these shots, and there are enough of them that I can’t keep straight which building is which. Is that the Godfrey’s mansion, or someone else’s? Is this a random copse of trees, or a significant spot?
Worse still is the intercutting of flashbacks with present-day action. In episode five, Dr. Chausser has a flashback to her induction into the Order of the Dragon. No big deal, and probably pretty pivotal to our understanding of her character. Except that the show broke the flashback into pieces and intercut those pieces with present-day action. She’s not remembering the episode in parts, we’re just fed little pieces of it periodically throughout the show. This creates an illusion of parallel editing.
This is the worst part of the show, in my opinion. I can deal with not caring about some of the characters, and their pretentious speech, and even trust that eventually the show will answer my questions. What I can’t handle is that nothing ever happens. The characters just sort of wander around the town doing… I’m not quite sure what. People make accusations, but nothing ever comes of it. People find evidence, but it doesn’t indicate anything. It feels like everyone is waiting for something to happen, but that event never quite starts.
And that’s just the primary story arc! There are several weak subplots that also progress at a geological rate. For example:
- Letha’s divine pregnancy
- Shelley’s disfigurement (and her glowing)
- Olivia’s eye-drops
- Roman’s relationship with his cousin Letha
- Norman’s relationship with his sister-in-law Olivia
- Christina’s neurosis after kissing a corpse
- Dr. Pryce’s secret project
- Whatever the deal is with Dr. Chausser
This is far from a comprehensive list, but if all you know about the subplots is what you just read, you know almost as much as I do—and I’ve seen half the season!
Halfway through the first season is where I stop for good, however. The show has simply failed to hold my interest, and even if someone promised that the show would answer my multitude of questions, the dreadfully slow pace of the show and other downfalls combined are enough to keep me away.
I have hope for Netflix’s future original content offerings. Orange Is The New Black looks promising, and I’m giddy as a schoolgirl for Arrested Development to come back.
In general, Netflix is making some smart choices, and I’m glad they’re willing to take some risks. Not every show will be a home run, but that’s nothing new, is it?16 People like this