Dark and disturbed gentlemen with wonderful hair, inappropriate student/teacher relationships, wandering gypsies; and a healthy dose of sex, murder and intrigue… could this, at long last, be the perfect show for me? On Netflix, I am coming to discover that anything is possible.
I finally came to Hemlock Grove while I was home visiting my family last week. I had heard about it somewhere a while ago and it was one of those television shows I made a mental note to look into at a later date, when the burdens of full-time work and study were not weighing so heavily upon me. Now, finding myself having a spare week with very little else to do, it seemed like an ideal time to get this item off the bucket list; and so it was I found myself marathoning season one on Netflix (which I am still getting familiar with, but with which I might be developing a full-time love affair). And so, I commenced on a journey to Hemlock Grove, a pretty little town somewhere in Pennsylvania, where a treasure trove of weird and damaged characters were awaiting me.
It’s an interesting cast as well as a mishmash of well-known horror/sci-fi themes that hold Hemlock Grove together. From the get-go we’re seeing death by animal attack, possible vampirism and possible lycanthropy; as well the inference that questionable medical experiments are being conducted and that there may be a reliance on some kind of hallucinogenic drug. Admittedly, that’s a lot to take in. Still the pilot manages to present all of these without causing you to feel swamped. A lot of this is achieved through inference and subtle asides between characters.
(dark and disturbed characters are going to integral to this plot line. this one is the resident author).
Although I don’t immediately recognise any of the actors in the pilot, except for the ageless and amazing Lili Taylor, there is something about the lead male that seems familiar to me. But we’ll get to him in a moment. I am super excited that Taylor makes an appearance as a slightly white trash type mother (she’s actually a legit Gypsy – of the Romanian stock – but I am slow on the uptake) and that gives me hope because I love her and am envious of the stellar career she has had starring in numerous sci-fi/supernatural/horror outings. If ever there was a woman that had the experience to play this kind of show, I think to myself, it is Taylor. But back to the elusive leading man. I spend most of the pilot puzzling over him and the familiarity of his forehead, until it finally hits – where I think I know him from – but it’s not him exactly, it is his kinfolk that are ringing my bells…
Members of the Skarsgard family seem to be popping up everywhere these days. This time it is youngest son of Stellan and brother to Alexander, Bill Skarsgard and he’s playing Roman. He’s the guy with the amazing hair that I was referring to earlier. He’s got pretty much the same cool exterior that have made his brother and father so popular, so I guess we’ll be seeing him a lot in the not too distant future. I am not sure if Roman is going to turn out to be a hero or a villain here. I am also not too sure that Roman knows if he’s light or dark side yet. That’s the joy of youth I guess, you get to flip flop back and forth between to the two until you decide which one fits you better. In any case, he plays it well, with that same kind of sullen intensity that made Erik Northman so lovable in the early seasons of True Blood (I gave up mid-season 3 and with the third book as it happens, so I can’t talk to the whole series).
In any case, all coldly beautiful leading men need to have someone to balance them out. In this case, that is Peter, the literal Gypsy who is quickly established as a possible werewolf and certainly as an all-round bad boy. When Roman is cold and immaculate, Peter is warm and scruffy. (Just once, I would love to see the mould broken and have a scruffy vampire but today is not that day). If this were real life, I can guarantee you, I would be all up in Peter’s grill from second one. Forget about being the high school outsider, Peter, I’ll be your friend, even if you do have dirty hair and longish nails. I like that in a man. Also, your stolen leather jacket is bad-ass.
(look at these two, they don’t know which one is the true bad boy. in reality they’re just two halves of the same whole).
Speaking of high school outsiders, sometimes I wish life were as interesting as it is in television high schools like the one in Hemlock Grove, or the one in Buffy. Alas, I have never been privy to the kind of school that hosts the giant mutant girl, the half vampire boy or the wandering gypsy loner. Real life, it seems, is rarely so interesting. That’s a pretty harsh conclusion, I realise. Perhaps it is more fair to say that as inhabitants of the real world we must learn to seek out excitement in different ways or readjust our perspectives on what has previously been consigned to the mundane. I’ll make sure I add ‘attitudinal change’ to my bucket list.
There is something of a murder mystery sub-plot going on in Hemlock Grove, but that isn’t really developed too much in the pilot, so if you’re expecting some kind of supernatural thriller/mystery with a murder at the core – think again. As far as episode 1 is concerned, no good looking/mysterious law enforcement officers have even show up yet. This is not as closely related to Twin Peaks as the direction, colour scheme and score would have as believe. On the positive side, this appears as if it’s going to be a slow burn, with multiple side plots, love triangles and uncomfortable sexual liaisons. I don’t mind a slow burning plot line, I find that it’s often more rewarding; I don’t know about the rest of you Netflix viewers. All things considered, I think I might be fond of this show. It reminds me of a teen accessible version of Penny Dreadful in some ways. Not as much graphic nudity or sex, but time might change that. Oh, and this is obviously not set in Victorian England, but the hamlet of Hemlock Grove certainly has that perpetual winter feel. In both cases there’s a lot of supernatural stuff going on, people are having ‘feelings’ about each other and the future and mythical bogeymen certainly seem to be lurking in the shadows. I think Upir is a nice twist on the vampire mythology that’s been swamping teen drama for a few decades. I feel less excited about the werewolf concept, but we’ll see how it plays out.
After one episode, I’m not entirely comfortable enough to trust the involvement of Eli Roth though. I keep waiting for something to jump out of the back ground and gross me out. I guess I still just don’t really don’t know how I feel about Eli Roth overall. Sometimes he is amazing and sometimes her freaks me the fuck out. He’s a bit like M. Night Shyamalan in that I am frequently put off by some of his subject content, but I always seem to go back to him. Since this is a TV show rather than a horror film, I’m trying to be quietly confident that in this instance I’ll be leaning more towards awesome than freakish.
(After episode one, I feel like this is going to be my favourite character. I don’t know why. She’ll probably end up being the most tragic, but that’s okay. I’m going to see how they play out the gentle, deformed giant girl).
The dangerous thing about Netflix is that it almost pushes you to binge-watch this type of television series. It’s kind of like a dare, but you’re only ever really daring yourself. And so here were are, an entire generation of internet babies, binge-watching television serials about people interacting, falling in love, living and dying; watching them all alone and wondering why our lives are not so exciting.