THE LIMITED SERIES "Sharp Objects"
WHEN | WHERE Premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO
WHAT IT'S ABOUT St. Louis newspaper reporter Camille Preaker (Amy Adams) returns to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, to cover the story of two missing teen girls. After she reluctantly moves back in with her mother (Patricia Clarkson), stepfather (Henry Czerny), and teenage half-sister (Eliza Scanlen), the ghosts of her past start to crowd her. Those include the searing memory of her younger sister (Lulu Wilson), who died under mysterious circumstances years earlier, and Camille's stay at a psych ward, after ritually cutting herself. The town has some local "color," including Sheriff Vickery (Matt Craven) who butts heads with Kansas City Det. Richard Willis (Northport native Chris Messina), who's also in Wind Gap to investigate the killings.
This eight-parter is based on Gillian Flynn's ("Gone Girl") 2006 bestseller; the first seven episodes were made available for review.
MY SAY "We don't have a lot of happy stories" in Wind Gap, Camille says to Det. Willis in a later episode. Had he Camille's apparent gift for understatement, Willis might have added, "And you don't have a lot of interesting stories either ..."
Wind Gap would be a one-horse town except that no self-respecting horse would be caught dead there. Clouds lazily drift overhead which mimic — or mock — the inaction below. Heat rises from empty sidewalks and silent streets. Vacant storefronts bear witness to the indolence. They're bored, too. Wind Gap has hollowed out and there's no one around to fill the void. (Parts of "Sharp Objects" were shot in and around Barnesville, Georgia, which may — or may not — relish this close-up.)
In this sense, "Sharp Objects" could almost pass as "True Detective 3:" A detective and reporter hunt down clues of a brutal double murder while a sinister, exotic locale trapped by its past is the setting. That a five-time Oscar nominee plays one of the leads is almost incidental. Atmospherics are what count here, atmospherics are what build mood, tone, color, feel, rhythm and pace. A star director (Jean-Marc Vallée, "Big Little Lies") and showrunner (Marti Noxon, "unREAL") want this foreground to match a morbid backdrop of dark secrets, carnal desires and psychological torment.
They succeed — although maybe just a little too well. Other than the discovery of a murder victim and a major reveal in the closing seconds of the seventh episode, almost nothing happens in "Sharp Objects." That's not an exaggeration, and to put some numbers to this stasis, over 385 minutes of program time the plot of "Sharp Objects" unfolds almost imperceptibly.
The narrative creep notwithstanding, there are pleasures in "Objects." Adams' performance is one of them. Camille is a puzzle, to herself and to others, and that's by design. Her mother is a world-class gaslighter who has turned her daughter into a self-abusing, self-loathing alcoholic. Camille left Wind Gap, but Wind Gap never really left her. Her torment is palpable.
But as a big-city newspaper reporter, she's hopeless — and that may not be entirely by design. "Sharp Objects" is the latest in a long line of Hollywood productions to get the job of print journalist laughably wrong. She never interviews anyone or takes notes. She files only one story. In the real world, the possible serial murder of two young white girls would bring anchors of the major commercial networks in force, while the cable networks would set up Wind Gap bureaus. Poor Camille — inexplicably the only reporter in town — can't even figure out her lede.
That's possibly part of the overall design. Like those phantom stories, she's stuck in the past and present. Who can think on deadline when Mommy Dearest tells her stuff like, "You were always emotionally cold. I hope this helps you!"
Nevertheless, you may wonder why Camille ever wanted to become a reporter in the first place. There's a big story in Wind Gap and a Pulitzer awaiting her — if she bothered picking up a phone once in a while.
BOTTOM LINE Adams is good, "Sharp Objects" is deadly slow.