‘Hemlock Grove’ Season Premiere Review – Not Worth A Netflix Binge Watch

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Famke Janssen Bill Skarsgard Hemlock Grove ‘Hemlock Grove’ Season Premiere Review – Not Worth A Netflix Binge Watch

Thanks to Netflix original programming, not only are there more production opportunities, but when a Netflix show is finally ready for public viewing, we’re not forced to wait a week for the next installment and can watch every single episode in a single shot. A nice bonus for folks with little patience – but in the case of the Eli Roth-produced Hemlock Grove, the show might have benefited from the standard release format.

Rather than earn longer legs by enticing audiences to hang on just one more week, a viewer can decide to turn this one off completely after just one two and a half hour viewing – but likely less.

The Roth-directed first episode opens with an introduction to Bill Skarsgård’s Roman Godfrey, by showing off an odd sexual fetish during a quickie in his car. From there, we jump to episode one’s main victim, Brooke Bluebell (Lorenza Izzo), a student at Hemlock Grove High who’s enjoying a little fling with a female teacher. They’re set to meet one night, but before Brooke can get there, she’s viciously attacked and literally torn apart by a mysterious predator.

From the moment Hemlock Grove begins, there’s red flags all over the place. On the technical front, the coloring often doesn’t match, the shot composition isn’t particularly appealing, and the action coverage is entirely disorienting. But, even worse, the first ten minutes are devastatingly poorly formatted. Why open with that strange sexual display that ultimately amounts to nothing, when you could kick things off with more of a bang? Brooke’s death isn’t particularly frightening or original, but her portion of the episode is one of few segments that actually has a somewhat compelling build.

Bill Skarsgard Landon Liboiron Hemlock Grove ‘Hemlock Grove’ Season Premiere Review – Not Worth A Netflix Binge Watch

Once poor Brooke’s insides are on the outside, Hemlock Grove falls almost entirely flat in an effort to deliver the basics of the show’s main players. Perhaps it’s just that Skarsgård charm, but Roman Godfrey is intriguing enough. He very clearly has inner demons, but also a curious allure and kindness that sets him up as a winning protagonist early on.

The same goes for the show’s other leading man, Landon Liboiron (Terra Nova). His character, Peter Rumancek (the poor guy who goes through that vicious werewolf transformation), first moves to town with his mother to live in the grungy trailer his deceased uncle left behind. With an assist from a notably appealing and real performance from Lili Taylor (The Conjuring) as his mother, Liboiron easily establishes Peter as a good guy with values – but also someone who’s in touch with his darker side. Ultimately, we end up with two leads harboring a unique combination of good and evil, and that’s intriguing enough to want to learn more.

However, beyond Roman and Peter, few characters make much of an impact by the end of the episode. The biggest letdown is Famke Janssen’s (X-Men) Olivia Godfrey. She’s very clearly pinned as one of the show’s main sources of mystery, but the elements of her character that are revealed in round one are either too cryptic to understand, or entirely uninteresting.

Back at school we’ve got Christina Wendall played by Freya Tingley. There’s nothing wrong with Tingley’s performance, but her introductory scene is full of terribly odd banter with Peter. She goes from outright accusing Peter of being a werewolf to judging him for using the word retard. We’ve also got Roman’s sister Shelley stalking the halls of Hemlock High. She’s a ceiling-high specimen with bandaged hands and hair that covers her face – the exact character you’d hope for from a show like Hemlock Grove. Her backstory isn’t particularly well woven into the main narrative, but her sub-plot is the first thing that piques interest in a manner the entire show should.

Bill Skarsgard Penelope Mitchell Hemlock Grove ‘Hemlock Grove’ Season Premiere Review – Not Worth A Netflix Binge Watch

Olivia, Roman, and Shelley’s extended family also make an appearance in the inaugural episode – but, yet again, their big moment amounts to nothing. The scene wastes time pointing out that Roman’s cousin, Letha (Penelope Mitchell), is nixing sushi in her effort to avoid mercury, when it could be building her character before hurling her into what should have been one of the episode’s more impressive set pieces: a night when Roman and Letha get to enjoy an entire amusement park to themselves. Regardless, the girl’s name is still Letha, so if you can keep yourself from giggling every time a character says her name (it sounds more like Lisa with a lisp), you might get more out of her than us less mature viewers.

It’s only episode one, so all of this thin character development could have been passable had the episode actually had a through line. Remember Brooke Bluebell? We don’t hear another word about her until the tail-end of the episode. And that teacher she was hooking up with? She disappears entirely. Whereas that opening massacre could have functioned as a developing scenario to push the episode forward while introducing the show’s leads, it’s entirely abandoned and what we’re left with is a set of disjointed moments desperately trying to convey the basics, while still being cryptic.

Lili Taylor Landon Liboiron Hemlock Grove ‘Hemlock Grove’ Season Premiere Review – Not Worth A Netflix Binge Watch

The end result is a dull and dreary display that barely scratches the surface of true horror and mystery. In fact, minus the hunk of organs that was Brooke Bluebell, the first episode of Hemlock Grove doesn’t really qualify as horror material at all. It’s more of a deliberately dark soap opera comprised of ominous staring and conversations that never really amount to much. For example, after first meeting Shelley, we get this great opportunity to see what life with the Godfrey family is really like when the trio sits down for dinner. However, in just about three lines of dialogue, Roman announces that there’s a new gypsy kid in town, Olivia throws her fork and calls them filth, and the scene comes to an abrupt end, cutting off before getting to what could, and should have been the most interesting part of the conversation.

Fortunately, throughout episodes two and three, the material does become more engaging – but more so because you’ve been in the world for nearly two and a half hours and not necessarily because the show improves. The narrative details never coalesce to make you feel like you’re finally understanding the Hemlock Grove universe, and the shooting style and shot selection further make the viewer feel like an outsider, as there’s often a very heavy hand on the camera.

But what really puts the stake in Hemlock Grove - more so than anything – is that it’s flat out boring. There are certainly moments that work and they’re very easy to identify because once they come and go, the urge to take a peek at the clock returns, and that sensation certainly doesn’t meld with the Netflix binge-watch release strategy.

All episodes of Hemlock Grove arrive on Netflix on April 19th.

Follow Perri on Twitter @PNemiroff.

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TAGS: hemlock grove

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  1. loved it!!! please season 2!!!

  2. “But what really puts the stake in Hemlock Grove – more so than anything – is that it’s flat out boring.”

    Bingo.

    (slight spoilers ahead)

    This show SHOULD have been good. You’ve got queen and prince Dracula, the wolfman and his gypsy clan, super-strength Dr. Jekyll, adorable Frankenstein’s monster, the earnest-yet-clueless huntsman, and lesbian Van Helsing. That mixture could have resulted in a great American Gothic tale, but ends up some kind of Twin-Peaks-meets-Twilight-meets-Supernatural flop.

    Hemlock Grove was just poorly produced all the way around: schizophrenic pacing, cringe-inducing dialogue, mediocre acting, and a fairly boring plot. I watched all 13 episodes, holding out hope for some kind of amazing ending that would make the whole journey worth it, but it never came. No blaze of glory, just a weak whimper.

    One of the more obvious problems with Hemlock Grove is the use of horrible accents by the non-American/English actors. Famke Janssen’s faux British accent induces involuntary grimmaces. Bill Skarsgard’s attempt at an American accent is passable in about half of his scenes, but in the other half, he ends up sounding like the Swedish Chef from The Muppet Show. At times, Dougray Scott’s native accent overpowers his attempts to sound American.

    That being said, the actual dialogue that does get delivered makes one wonder if it was written by an actual human being. Characters say the dumbest crap, presumably under the guise of being “mysterious,” in an attempt to get the viewer to think that there is some deep meaning behind every word. Mostly it just distances the viewer from the characters, as no real person speaks or acts the way they do in Hemlock Grove. Characters frequently have these explosive emotional outbursts over NOTHING, leaving viewers scratching their heads in confusion. Also, there is WAY too much time spent on reaction shots.

    Finally, there is the ridiculous and completely unnecessary sex and nudity. The straight sex, lesbian sex, oral sex, fetish sex, and hooker sex is nearly 100% useless in moving the story forward or filling in the plot. It is way overdone, and serves no purpose, other than a hipster attempt to be edgy and cool for the kids? I honestly don’t know. (The same goes for the foul language: it serves nearly no purpose in the telling of the story, and feels like it is simply there for the sake of being there… “Hey, nobody has uttered a cuss for a few lines, better throw in some random cussing!”)

    Overall, a disappointing series. Definitely won’t be watching the inevitable season 2.

    • I just love that you mentioned American Gothic! Loved that show…

    • I agree with everything you pointed out. I also watched all 13 episodes hoping for the best but ultimately let down. The one true bright part was the wolf transformation. Never seen it done that way.

      • Lame and ur boring which means yu have no life and for everybody else who feels this way um who has the money in their hand um not yu so yea it was a brilliant show

    • “Famke Janssen’s faux British accent induces involuntary grimmaces.”

    • Manny, your review hit it on the head for me. I am almost afraid to say anything critical for fear of being attacked. I really wanted to like it, but the dialogue was sophomoric, the acting was weird and clunky and the was pacing was Schizophrenic as you said. All of this and gaping plot holes just made it feel sloppy and boring. I kept waiting for something to truly happen besides some girls getting gruesomely killed (and the bizarre change to a wolf) but it didn’t until the end and even then too much was not really answered that should have been (not just cliff-hangers for the next season).

      I don’t belittle anyone’s love of the series, I have some guilty pleasures myself. I adore The Walking Dead and I know many people find it ridiculously slow too.

      I will probably watch the next season too, but more out of amusement.

  3. This review is bologne. Show was great. I got hooked. Finished the last episode at 5:30 this morning.

  4. Obviously you have to like these kind of movies. I thought it had a great story i have told everyone i know and they loved it as well. I can’t wait for season 2

  5. I don’t agree with a thing in this review. The show has me hooked and looking forward to a second season. The reviewer in this case has, I assume, never heard of character development. You have to show what type of character we are dealing with before we can just dive into a story. I also believe that freya was fantastic in this show and the odd dialogue between christina and peter in the beginning was exactly what it needed to be to put the entire series into perspective. I could keep going but ultimately this is all just opinion and it doesn’t matter.

  6. Loved the show. Can’t wait for season 2. Hopefully sooner than later.

  7. I loved this series! I am full of anticipation waiting for season 2! At first I did not get it the story was slow and choppy but mid season it took off! It was exciting and made you hang on to every second!

  8. Seriously?? Maybe this is one person’s opinion, but here’s another: this show is FAR from “boring”. And I have been getting bored with nearly every show lately, but not ONCE did I look at the clock while watching this entire series. And neither did anyone I know who watched this. Lately, so many shows have gotten dull, like they are just circling their plots and character drama and love triangles, from Vampire Diaries to The Following to Scandal. These are all great shows, but really now – when are Damon and Stephen going to ever give up on these look-alike hoes? And when is Olivia going to get over the jerk of a president? And Joe Caroll is just gonna keep playing Ryan Hardy. The world of TV viewers has been needing such an unpredictable, addicting show for a long time now.

  9. I agree I thought the series was great. I like the binge watching bring on more.

  10. I just finished watching the whole season I loved it. I also love that Bill is following in his older sexier brothers foot steps- I thought it was a great way to keep you guessing and lead into a new season. I found it awesome. Making Roman weak and then growing stronger as the show progresses. I found a lot of what happened unpredictable which is something I enjoy. I know sometimes they didn’t go in depth with the specific scenes but it never made me feel like it was lacking. Can’t wait until season 2.

  11. I loved it!! It took me a few days to watch all the episodes because I had to wait until my kids went to bed. I found myself thinking about the show throughout the day trying to figure out what was going to happen next. I have to say with all the other shows out there With werewolves in them i still never saw the ending of he last episode coming. It was a complete suprise. Can’t wait for season 2!!

  12. Maybe the show required too much thinking for the person that wrote this article

  13. I disagree, I think the fact you don’t have to wait a week for a new episode means watch the entire season before you start ranting.

  14. I agree with mike it takes somebody with a brain to enjoy this series I just wanna point out that it wasn t a British accent it was a Romanian accent obviously Olivia was from an earlier time period cause she was immortal.

  15. This show was AWFUL!
    Awful, awful, awful!!!!!

  16. This show was amazing. The only way I could see someone not liking this is if they are not very insightful. Their are several very complex details to pay attention to throughout. Can’t wait for season 2.

  17. actually, this show is awesome.

  18. just finished the show wanting season 2

  19. Im almost halfway through the series and I am not impressed. In fact, disappointed. I was looking to see if I was alone. I agree, bad acting, crappy dialogue…boring. I have a feeling that won’t change, but I’m going to go ahead and finish it. *sigh*

  20. I looooove this show. Love it, love it, love it. Could not love it any more. I just finished the season finale and I’m sitting here in complete suspense of a second season. The terrible news is that I am under the impression that there is not another book. Olivia died, Letha died, Shelley took off. What’s left? Oh, aside from the two main characters, the infant in the black lace gothic crib, the science project of that mad little god complex doctor, the possible return of his “glow worm” Shelley? Oh, just that????? Gahhhh!!! I really need a second season to happen.

  21. I don’t give a flying frisbee what anyone says! They can kick rocks(: I freaking love this show and was hooked since episode one. Season Two !!!!

  22. this the best show i have watched in a long time. if there isn’t a second season i may just hang my self. j/k but really it would be shame if there isn’t at least 3 more seasons.

  23. Amazing show, really would be great if they could develop a second season. Recently I was thinking about cancelling my netflix membership, but then this appeared and now Netflix is offering something that brings value to their product exclusively. Way to go Netflix!

  24. I do not agree with your panning of the show. Perhaps a bit slow to start, it’s the best plot I’ve seen in forever! Hope they make a season 2- and soon!!

  25. I too liked this show. I didn’t expect much since it is a netflix series but I was pleasantly surprised.

  26. Alright forget what everbody says this show was good af all my friends like it i finshed this season the first day it came out…man make another season for real…ps if u dont like the sexual scenes dont watch it

  27. I am 30 years old not some teeny bobber and I will have you know that I thought the first season of Hemlock Grove was AWESOME!! I WANT MORE…. I think you guys are dead wrong on this one … Amazing acting and a an awesome story line that threw you many curve balls , and everyone likes unpredictable !

  28. I didn’t expect too much out of the show just by watching the previews, but it turned out to be a really good story. You get invested in the characters as well as the story. It had the best werewolf transformation I have ever seen on screen. If you don’t like this show then I bet you also had problems with shows such as Roswell, True Blood(which has Bill Skarsgard’s older brother in it),Underworld, Supernatural, Being Human (U.S. version), or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This sort of show just isn’t your cup of tea. People who like this show are the people who get the “what happens next?!” reaction. And we get that reaction because we ask questions, we think about what is happening; we want to know who, what, why, when, and where. We don’t depend solely on the show to do the thinking for us. Shows like this are intellectually stimulating to people who like to learn things about folklore and things of that nature. This show uses Gypsy folklore, not the run-of-the-mill things that are common knowledge. All in all, this is a great show. You shouldn’t be allowed to critique a show if you have a biased opinion. A critique should be done by someone with an insight on more than one standpoint.

  29. It was mind blowing genius incredible something new almost reminds me of lost….speechless but excellent first season cant wait til more olivia was my favorite character lol

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