Hemlock Grove is a 2013 Netflix Original Horror series set in the town of Hemlock Grove, Pensylvannia, where the super rich and the super poor live and intermingle. In the show’s first season, one of the super rich families are the Godfreys, who own a large amount of the properties in the town, including the imposing and mysterious Godfrey Institute. One of the super poor families are the Rumanceks, a family of gypsies. After a teenage girl gets murdered, the two suspects are outcasts Roman Godfrey, of the Godfreys, and Peter Rumancek, of the Rumanceks, who everyone believes is a werewolf. Together, they seek to clear their names and find out who the real murderer is.
For a twelve-year-old me, this was an excellent series. It had plenty of edgy characters, senseless gore, and Netflix originally advertised it as having two Emmy nominations to its name. So, I thought it just had to be good (the nominations were for the theme song and the visual effects but a nomination is a nomination). In fact, this show was my favorite show for years.
When I rewatched the first season, however, there was a lot I realize I didn’t catch my first viewing. Firstly, the acting looks terrible to me. I don’t think there is one actor in this show that is at all good in their roles, except for Nicole Boivin as Shelley Godfrey, as Shelley’s silent throughout this season. And there are some actors that have gone on to do some somewhat impressive things. Bill Skarsgard became acclaimed for his role as Pennywise in It. Yet here, he gives an incredibly poor performance, one of the worst in the season. Their performances are all very similar in quality to The CW’s Riverdale or anything on the Disney channel. They don’t over-act, yet they’re not monotone. They do a weird mesh of both.
Another one of the season’s many problems is that there are a lot of details that go unexplained. For example, the main conflict is never formally introduced; you figure out over the course of the season that that is what they’re trying to do, but you won’t get that information from the first episode. Furthermore, a lot of the other plots are left completely unanswered. The main antagonist has a relationship with another important character that is almost completely left out of the season, except for at the very beginning and at the very end. And, it’s integral to the storyline. This season’s writers had time to develop this relationship; the show has 13 episodes that are each one hour long, so it’s not like they didn’t have time to add it in there, but they chose not to.
In fact, this season, if anything, had way too much time. It felt oftentimes that there were entire scenes and entire storylines that were added entirely because the creators felt that they needed more scenes to fit the amount of time they needed to fill. Half of the episodes could’ve worked just as well with what they needed to do if they were only thirty minutes long. Some episodes could’ve been even shorter. In their defense, this was one of the first shows ever to go straight to streaming, so it’s understandable why their pacing was so off. Each episode had to be fifty minutes, compared to forty in most modern television shows. It’s reasonable as to why they might’ve made that mistake.
Another huge problem with this season is that there’s a lot of telling and not a lot of showing. For example, Olivia Godfrey, the mother of Roman Godfrey, and the head of the Godfrey Institute, is described as an evil, terrible person. Despite her cartoonish, supervillain-esque attire of solely white coats and dresses, her Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle physique, and her Ford F150 (One of these things is not like the other, I know) she’s not really all that terrible. She’s seen as more caring and motherly in the first few episodes and doesn’t do anything particularly terrible until later on in the season. Yet, the characters in the show consistently hate her and talk about how terrible she is. We don’t really see it, so we can’t really believe what they’re saying is true.
While Olivia isn’t particularly terrible, she certainly isn’t likable either, which highlights one of the biggest problems with this season overall; none of the characters are liable. This includes, unfortunately, Roman and Peter, our main characters. Both were written to be likable to some extent, yet neither succeeds. Roman is a rich kid who doesn’t care about anything. He’s seen as kind of a jerk through most of the early episodes in the season. He does, however, seem to care about some of the characters in the show, particularly his disabled sister Shelley. While he does redeem himself, he does something so despicable beforehand that he becomes entirely unlikable as a result. On top of that, he says things that are very offensive. Peter, on the other hand, is unlikable because he has a terrible personality. He’s either angry about something or apathetic. There are good parts to his personality, as he does have moments of good-naturedness and moments where he has fun and goofy. This is supposed to make up for all the bad parts. Unfortunately, at this it fails.
This next part is a spoiler, so if you don’t want spoilers, skip to the next paragraph. The aforementioned despicable thing Roman does is rape someone. Somehow, after that incident, the audience is expected to believe he can go through a redemption arc, which only briefly mentions the girl he rapes and doesn’t go into specifics about her. And, it doesn’t get brought up later in the season, except for a brief moment where it’s suggested that the victim was a mean person, which wasn’t brought up earlier. And, it’s only told to the audience, instead of showed. This part was the most horrible as it suggests that she deserved what happened to her, which is absolutely untrue in any situation.
While all of the characters in Hemlock Grove are terrible, one character is almost not, that being the character of Shelley. She’s a very sweet girl who can’t function normally in society due to the fact that she’s severely physically handicapped, deformed, and enormous in size. The audience is supposed to feel sorry for her and is supposed to be happy when she eventually triumphs. Yet even her character has issues; she has a tendency for sounding melodramatic in certain situations, despite her struggles. But, in the end, she’s the most likable character in the season. The creators, for some reason, even after very early on characterizing her as non-threatening, still uses her for scare value. There’s absolutely no reason for the show to do so, in fact, there are more reasons why not to do so, as she’s a likable character. But, either way, the creators must’ve felt that they needed this season to be scarier, so they wrongly added her as that element of fear.
Furthermore, the soundtrack for this season is noticeably bad. It takes a lot for someone to realize when a soundtrack is awful, usually bad soundtracks are just forgettable. This soundtrack would’ve worked better if it were in an episode of Scooby-Doo. It’s campy and feels very cliche, which is not the show’s intention at all.
Unfortunately, for a show that’s described as a horror series, it’s really not all that scary. Sure, there are a few creepy moments, but a lot of the scenes that are supposed to be viewed as terrifying aren’t really all that scary. This season replaces scary with gory and includes a large number of scenes where incredibly gory things are occurring that are supposed to be scary but are instead just gory.
While there are a lot of parts to this season that are unnerving and add nothing to the actual plot, what takes the cake is the fact that a major character in the season has romantic feelings for one of their family members. Technically, they have feelings for two of their family members, but for one of them, it’s a major part of the plot. There has to be a pretty good reason to include incest, or else it’s just tasteless shock value. For one of the family members that this character has romantic feelings for, there’s no reason for it, it’s just there.
Despite all of the show’s many flaws, there are a few things that are actually quite exceptional. Firstly, the cinematography isn’t terrible. There are several instances where they stay on a shot for way too long, but the actual shots they get are decent. The way they use lighting is also effectual; it works perfectly with the narrative. The set design is excellent. In the moments where you’re supposed to see poverty, you really see the poverty. In the moments where you’re supposed to see wealth, you really see the wealth. The visual effects pop out, and are really impressive and life-like, good enough to be in a high budget film. The theme song is really impactful, perfectly setting the tone for the rest of each episode. If the entire season was completely silent except for the theme music playing on repeat with no other sound, the season might’ve been much better.
I found Hemlock Grove to be not a very good show.
Hemlock Grove: Netflix’s first original series mistake
Writing - 6/106/10
Storyline - 5/105/10
Acting - 5/105/10
Music - 4/104/10
Production - 7.5/107.5/10
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