Hemlock Grove Review

netflix-hemlock-groveHemlock Grove is the third series in Netflix’s push to begin presenting original programming to their subscribers. This is a significant move, as it is another piece in the puzzle that could significantly change how we consume media. Part of this plan includes putting the entire season up at once so that you can either watch the show over time or all at once.

But for this move to work the programming has to be good. Not all of it, though. Even the most successful networks have bad programming. But the better the programming, the more people are going to pay attention. The big push will be next month with the fourth season of Arrested Development.

But in the meantime we have Hemlock Grove, so how did they do?

Hemlock Grove is a supernatural mystery developed for television by Brian McGreevy and Lee Shipman based on a novel by McGreevy.

The show takes place in the eponymous town of Hemlock Grove, Pennsylvania. The main characters are Roman Godfrey, eldest child of the richest family in town, and Peter Rumancek, a gypsy who has just moved into town with his mother. The two meet when they are both drawn to the location of a violent death of a fellow student. They bond over being fatherless loners, and also over the fact that they both are supernatural in nature.  Peter is a werewolf; and although he is not aware of it, Roman is an Upir, which even though the series acts like it is teasing it out, is clearly something akin to a vampire.

As the two bond, they decide to hunt down the student’s killer after a second attack occurs. The police think it is a wild animal, but Peter can tell it is a vargulf, which is the term for a werewolf that has gone insane.

Several of the other characters represent other horror story archetypes.

There is Christine, who fancies herself a novelist, and is familiar enough with folklore to recognize that Peter is a werewolf, although no one else really believes her, making her the exposition character which is more a universal archtype.

Shelly is Roman’s younger sister. She is nearly 7 feet tall, mute, bald (but always wearing a wig), and part of her face is deformed. She is also the sweetest most caring person in the story, and is used in the story to act as a gauge for the level of compassion in other characters. As her backstory is revealed it is clear that she is a Frankenstein archetype.

There is also Letha, Roman’s cousin, whom he is unusually close to. She becomes pregnant after an encounter with what she sees as an angel. Eventually she becomes Peter’s girlfriend. She is the damsel in distress archetype.

Roman’s mother Olivia is clearly a femme fatale and master manipulator. She is the evil temptress archetype.

Peter’s cousin Destiny has psychic abilities and in many ways both covers and subverts the witch archetype.

There is also a Battlestar Galactica reunion. Arron Douglas plays the town Sherriff, who is the typical horror movie lawman; and Kandyse McClure is Dr. Clementine Chausser, a Fish and Wildlife investigator and this story’s Van Helsing.

There are others but the show has a huge cast and I could be here all day covering them.

The story at its heart is a classic horror mystery. The heroes have to discover the identity of the monster and how to defeat it before it can kill again.  But at times that is secondary to the exploration of the characters. The theme of the monster within is covered, both for the supernatural characters and the humans caught up in events, as they spin further out of control.

Bucking the current trend of supernatural storytelling, romance is not at the heart of the story, even poking fun at Twilight, as seems almost required these days. The core relationship is the friendship between Peter and Roman. In these days of prolific fanfiction, they are a duo almost tailor made for Slashfic. They are constantly drawn together by their need for friendship, while at the same time being pulled apart by their differing nature. Landon Liboiron as Peter and Bill Skarsgard as Roman give good performances, and are clearly the anchor of the series. The one downside here is that when Roman becomes emotional, Skarsgard’s natural Swedish accent starts leaking through which can be distracting.

Unfortunately the level of acting from the rest of the cast is uneven. Some are very good, like Dougray Scott as Roman’s uncle, and Lili Taylor as Peter’s mother. Others are fine but not anything that will stand out, such as Douglas and McClure, as well as Tiio Horn as Peter’s cousin Destiny. Some of the younger cast members definitely show their inexperience, especially Freya Tingley. She gives a very uneven performance as Christina – at times playing too wooden, and at other times over the top, but every once and a while doing fine. And then you have Famke Janssen as Olivia, where she is attempting to chew the scenery while going for a constant state of bored distance, coming off as a character from an Addams Family movie.

The show is best as a character study. As a mystery it does work as well, but I feel they telegraphed the identity of the vargulf a little too much. I figured it out three episodes prior to the reveal. This is not to say it is all bad. I was engaged with the story through to the end and did find myself caring about the characters.

From a production perspective it was clear that the show was working from limited budget, and found ways to work with it. The werewolf transformation, while not necessarily a new take, was done extremely well. There was also a reliance on suggested violence over outright gore, although there were gory aftermath scenes.

Overall I enjoyed the show and would certainly check out a second season if one is made. It is also a solid entry into Netflix original programming plan.

I give Hemlock Grove a C+.



The Parasol Protectorate: An overview

Oh good, it’s finally July.
I’ve always considered myself an avid reader. There was a time when it was not uncommon for me to be reading two novels at once. As I’m sure you can guess by the name of this blog, once in a book store I head straight to the science fiction and fantasy section.
In the last couple of months I haven’t done a lot of reading. When I have it’s been reading Arthur Conan Doyle, I’m on a kick to fill in the Sherlock Holmes stories I did not read in High School. One of the big reasons I haven’t made time (outside of life issues) is that the various series I follow haven’t had new books out. My fiancée Larisa has been trying to get me to start the A Song of Ice and Fire series, but I wanted to hold off until season one of Game of Thrones ended. I will get to it eventually.
But not yet, it’s July, and that means two books I have been waiting for are being released.
The first is Heartless by Gail Carriger, book four in The Parasol Protectorate series which has just released. The other is Ghost Story by Jim Butcher, book fourteen in The Dresden Files series which will release on the 26th.
For those not familiar The Parasol Protectorate here is a brief overview. (I’ll do a Dresden one closer to its release.)
The Parasol Protectorate is a supernatural steampunk alternate history series set in Victorian England. The four books in the series so far are Soulless, Changeless, Blameless, and the new book Heartless 
The premise is that vampires, werewolves, and ghosts are known to the general public and are accepted and integrated into society. Science has also advanced faster which adds mad scientists to the mix.
Our main character is Alexia Tarabotti, a lady from an upper class family who was born without a soul. This condition gives her the ability to cancel out the supernatural through physical contact. This means that if she touches a Vampire or Werewolf they become human for the duration of the contact. This naturally makes her of interest to the supernatural members of society, particularly Lord Maccon alpha werewolf of the London pack and head of the agency that deals with supernatural concerns for the crown. She is also friends with Lord Akeldama a flamboyant vampire aristocrat who’s knowledge of the goings on in society rival and even exceeds government intelligence.
What makes these novels stand out from other supernatural or steampunk novels is Carriger’s writing style. She weaves some her plots with a mix of mysteries to be solved, action, politics, and social manners. At the heart is a barbed wit evokes the spirit of Oscar Wilde (who I am convinced is the basis for Lord Akeldama)
And the cast, oh the cast.
Alexia is a great character to follow. Her lack of a soul means she has little to no creativity and her development of morals and sensitivity had to be through observation. To compensate she has had to develop a code of conduct based on pragmatism and social acceptability. A great deal is made of her inheriting her late Italian father’s looks in contrast to her lily white half-sisters.
Her best friend Ivy is a silly young thing with a fondness for ugly hats that defies all logic. Ivy’s greatest advantage is that being such a flighty girl people often mistake her for being stupid as well.
Lord Maccon is fun as the love interest because he is in many ways Alexia’s opposite, but ultimately they meet in having little tolerance for the frivolities of society. He is a brash man who never lets you forget that the wolf is part of him.
He is backed up by Professor Lyle, the pack beta who is practical, frighteningly competent and been the beta for the last several alphas.
As I said earlier, think Oscar Wilde and you have an idea of Lord Akeldama. He surrounds himself with a collection of foppish young gentlemen led by his right hand man, Biffy.
I don’t feel I can really do the whole series justice in a single blog post. For more check out Gail Carriger’s website here.
I really do suggest giving this series a try. I’ll post a review of Heartless as soon as I finish it.