Tuesday, April 30, 2013
The Horror Show: HEMLOCK GROVE
Episode 2, "The Angel"
I've come to the conclusion that HEMLOCK GROVE is objectively terrible.
I've only seen two episodes of the series, so there's two ways to look at that assessment. Either I'm a slow learner, or I really haven't given the show a fair shake. I guess it's a matter of perspective, but I don't see the strengths and weaknesses of HEMLOCK GROVE changing much before the end of this season. The most noticeable blemish on the show is the uneven acting and writing which sometimes reaches George Lucas-ian heights of stilted absurdity. While Lucas was usually able to make that kind of dialogue work by matching it with the proper actors, that has proven to be a crippling challenge for a long-form program like HEMLOCK GROVE. Each episode brings with it new challenges and the cast, particularly the younger actors, don't seem ready for it.
So, why do I still like this show?
The short answer? I'm a sucker for "Monster Rally" entertainment. Dark Shadows. The Munsters. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Plan 9 from Outer Space. Destroy All Montsers. Throw a bunch of monsters into a blender and turn to knob to "liquify," and you can expect to get a Valentine's Day card from me. As much as it pains me to admit it, it's really that simple.
It helps that HEMLOCK GROVE has no artistic pretensions. It might have a shallow little heart, but at the end of the day it just wants to be GROOVIE GHOULIES: THE NEXT GENERATION. For the time being, I've decided to keep watching.
Even though the second episode, "The Angel," drops a significant bombshell early on, I can't say the story progresses much. Here's what Netflix says it's about: "Roman confronts Peter at the crime scene, finding common ground. Letha reveals a shocking secret and Olivia and Norman fall into old habits."
Letha's "shocking secret" is, admittedly, pretty shocking. The teen is pregnant, but claims she was "visited" in the night several months before by an angel. Her father jumps to the conclusion that his family's company, which appears to be devoted to a number of different pseudosciences, is responsible for his impending grandfatherhood. He confronts his sister-in-law on the subject, and immediately jumps into the sack with her after she denies any involvement in the situation.
His response might seem illogical, but Letha's dad is Spock compared to the rest of the show's silly cast. While a bigger, bloodier, much more important moment is waiting later in the episode, it's hard to discuss this chapter without touching on the ridiculous school dance. The town of Hemlock Grove is mostly presented as being Hollywood "small town," the totally fake TV locale which expands and contracts depending on the needs of a particular episode. That sort of behavior is to be expected from a fantasy series: When a college materialized out of thin air a few seasons into BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, audiences just shrugged and moved on. But HEMLOCK GROVE has a very unique bit of architecture in the skyline of it's rural landscape. Even though this sort of town this size shouldn't even have a skyline, there's a skyscraper right out of STAR TREK looming over the town.We get a good look at it as an unnamed man appears to escape the confines of the Godfrey's family business and stumble into the path of said business's heir apparent.
A statistically improbable event? Certainly. But at least it brought a merciful end to the cloying, horrible dialogue being swapped by Letha and Peter as he learns that his cousin has an unholy bun in the oven. Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the two were leaving a school dance that had a 1920s theme. Which meant Letha and Peter were dressed like extras from THE GREAT GATSBY as this terrible scene unfolded (in front of rear projection while Peter pretended to drive.) Ed Wood only wished he had this kind of money to waste on terrible scenes.
Much like a Christian rock band, HEMLOCK GROVE has a fucked up, contradictory sense of ethics that are as gross as they are transparent. By the end of the second episode we've seen everything from SCARFACE-esque bathtub coke binges to menstrual oral sex. But the murder, incest, bullying, slut shaming and scientific abominations don't mask the show's message that THESE THINGS ARE BAD. While TWIN PEAKS and DARK SHADOWS sometimes mocked its straight-laced goody goodies (like James Hurley and Joe Haskell) something about HEMLOCK GROVE makes me thinks its real loyalties are with boring Letha and her boring life. All that's missing from the show is a disclaimer advising us that "The shit these people do might be entertaining, but will damn their souls to hell. So don't do it, m'kay?"
So, if HEMLOCK GROVE later reveals that Letha's nocturnal visitor was OMG, LIKE, A REAL ANGEL!?!?, color me less than shocked. If there was ever a series designed to find Jesus at the bottom of the proverbial bottle, this is it.
The show's other big moment arrives in the final minutes, and it's actually pretty great. Roman allows Peter to witness his transformation into a werewolf. Not only is the transformation effective (which has a wolf clawing its way out of Roman's skin and then neatly devouring the leftovers) but the build-up is tense, too. Peter, Roman and his mother, Lynda, sit around their trailer and wait nervously for the transformation to take place. When it does, the violence of the moment makes it clear that a werewolf is something you really don't want to be.