Sunday, May 24

Up Next: Netflix renews ‘Hemlock Grove’ despite confusing plot, unoriginality

Netflix's "Hemlock Grove" has been renewed for a third and final season consisting of 10 episodes. Columnist Savannah Tate argues that the show's fragmented plot makes it difficult to find a cohesive narrative. (Brooke Palmer/Netflix)

The rise of original online programming has revolutionized the way we consume television. But are any of these new shows actually worth watching? Up Next highlights noteworthy original content from Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Studios and examines how the flexible online format functions within each show. All you need is a laptop and your friend’s Netflix or Amazon Prime password.

With its impressive production design and supernatural aesthetic, Netflix’s “Hemlock Grove” would provide suitable background ambiance for a Halloween party. But on its own, the show’s disjointed arcs and confusing assembly of characters make “Hemlock Grove” difficult to enjoy.

Despite middling reviews from critics, Netflix recently announced it would renew the series for a third and final season consisting of 10 episodes. The latest season, released in July of this year, begins with Peter’s (Landon Liboiron) return to Hemlock Grove. In a desperate attempt to earn money for his mother, he turns into a werewolf on the wrong moon to trick a pair of drug dealers, a decision which has serious mental and physical repercussions for him. Meanwhile, Roman (Bill Skarsgård), a type of immortal vampire with superhuman strength and mesmerization powers, struggles with his bloodlust and the prophetic dreams he shares with Peter that foretell the coming of a mysterious new threat.

Frankly, the season lacks a cohesive plot altogether, which makes it difficult to introduce to new viewers. The strongest arc involves the evolution of Roman and Peter’s relationship. Once best friends, the two now loathe each other, which makes their shared dreams even more uncomfortable. Even though the two rarely interact, the tension in their relationship adds much-needed dimension to their personalities.

Not even an inventive web format can save “Hemlock Grove.” Admittedly, Netflix does little to set the show apart from cable horror thrillers like “American Horror Story” and “True Blood.” The storylines could have easily experimented with riskier subject matter, although the show has a penchant for gore thanks to executive producer Eli Roth (director of “Hostel”). Because of the freedom of its format, the show could easily experiment with run times for each episode to emphasize certain plot points or trim down particular episodes for a more self-contained approach.

Perhaps in an effort to join ranks with complex shows, such as “Breaking Bad,” the writers enjoy peppering the show with allusions to famous horror and science fiction films. However, in trying to mimic prestigious cable dramas, “Hemlock Grove” struggles to form its own identity. It lacks the originality that online programming strives for, which makes it a generic offering from Netflix.

Plus, there is no inventiveness to the way the company packages the show. Like all of its original programs, Netflix releases the episodes all at once, but at no point was I itching to see what would happen next. Because of its unfocused story arcs, “Hemlock Grove” does not have that “House of Cards” addictiveness that suits binge-watching. The creators could have released the season in two installments to make the plot tighter and decrease the fluff in the episodes immediately preceding the finale.

The second season does demonstrate a few improvements, likely due to its new showrunner Charles “Chic” Eglee, who worked on “Dexter” and “The Walking Dead.” Eglee seems to have managed “Hemlock Grove’s” major problems from the first season, including its terrible dialogue. No longer must fans of the show deal with a scene as lacking as this.

Roman, gesturing to old man using a walker: “What’s up with this guy?”

Peter: “I don’t know. He’s old.”

Roman: “Gross.”

One major improvement includes Roman’s character development. During this season, he wrestles with the morality of satisfying his blood lust, which leads to several gruesome, though artfully directed, scenes. Despite his inner turmoil, Roman shows more control of himself this season; that is to say, he does not roam around assaulting minor characters and instigating fights in every episode.

The writers also introduce a new character, Miranda Cates (Madeline Brewer). As a newcomer to “Hemlock Grove,” Miranda offers a relatable outsider’s perspective on the strangeness of the town. She’s smart and independent, which is refreshingly common for the female characters on the show, but at times she seems like an unnecessary addition.

In fact, one of the season’s main weaknesses is its ensemble cast. The writers took on too many characters, which make the episodes unfocused. I often forgot how the narratives connect at all because of the plot’s disjointedness.

Although the show has good intentions, it struggles to govern its story arcs and fails to take advantage of its online capabilities. The true mystery of “Hemlock Grove” lies not in the masked men and supernatural creatures in its universe, but in how the show managed to get renewed for yet another season.

– Savannah Tate


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