'Hemlock Grove' review: Indigestible 'binge' series
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THE SHOW "Hemlock Grove"
WHEN | WHERE Available for streaming starting Friday on Netflix
WHAT IT'S ABOUT A teen girl is brutally murdered, partially devoured, on the outskirts of Hemlock Grove -- a slightly scruffy, slightly weird, (even) slightly charming Rust Belt town nestled in a smoke-hazed valley of western Pennsylvania. The question is not "who" would do something so monstrous, but "what" -- an actual human perpetrator is ruled out because of the barbarity of the act.
Nevertheless, suspicion falls instantly on Peter Rumancek (Landon Liboiron, "DeGrassi: The Next Generation"), a teen who lives in a dilapidated trailer with mom, Lynda (Lili Taylor), and in the casual racism of the town, is decried as a "gypsy" -- but who is also quite possibly a werewolf, too.
The cops are also intrigued with Roman Godfrey (Bill Skarsgård), scion of the town's great fortune, The Godfrey Institute. The company's headquarters, a gleaming glass skyscraper, looms over Hemlock Grove as a reminder of the family's omnipotence.
Roman has special powers too, as does his alluring, exotic and particularly treacherous mother, Olivia (Famke Janssen, of the "X-Men" trilogy). Meanwhile, what to make of Roman's unusual sister, known as "Sis": She's intelligent, sensitive, shy -- also about eight feet tall, with a huge protruding glass eyeball. Like "House of Cards" -- the Kevin Spacey political thriller that was Netflix's entree into the world of original production -- all 13 episodes of "Grove" are available Friday.
MY SAY If "House of Cards" was Netflix's big, rollicking, history-in-the-making party, then "Hemlock Grove" must be the hangover: It's a high-concept, low-budget genre-busting gothic horror soap that's full of non sequiturs, loose ends, dead ends and split ends. "Grove" also establishes just how hard it is to mimic HBO's "auteur"-driven mandate -- now in full throttle with "Game of Thrones," which in effect says that if you give a brilliant writer enough rope he'll construct either a masterpiece -- or hang himself.
Based on the celebrated debut novel of 28-year-old screenwriter Brian McGreevy, "Hemlock Grove" is neither that failure nor that masterpiece but an intriguing oddball that's made some rookie mistakes in the first three episodes. Those include nonlinear storytelling that may work in novel form but not (always) on TV. McGreevy -- who is showrunner along with grindhouse specialist Eli Roth -- has also frontloaded his yarn with all sorts of genre tropes, from teen soaps to splatter flicks. That's all part of the fun, but also part of the confusion.
Best to keep in mind that this isn't a traditional "TV series," but an emerging new genre of its own -- the binge series designed for consumption in one massive gulp, or a few gulps. McGreevy is allowed to (and probably should) make up his own rules as he goes along, but that doesn't mean those who swallow this won't get indigestion.
BOTTOM LINE A messy newcomer with a "Twilight" saga vibe and "Twin Peaks" DNA.