Though it is still relatively new to the world of Peak T, and has no where near the traction of, say, Netflix or major upcoming streaming services like Disney+, Apple+, and HBO Max, Facebook Watch nevertheless has proven itself to have a keen eye with regard to picking promising shows. The first in that regard was the acclaimed Sorry For Your Loss, starring Elizabeth Olsen and Kelly Marie Tran, otherwise known for their roles in a pair of Disney mega-franchises (perhaps you’ve heard of them?). The second will undoubtedly be Limetown, a dark and effectively unsettling drama starring Jessica Biel as a journalist investigating the disappearance of an entire town’s population.
Adapted from the fictional podcast of the same name by creators Zack Akers and Skip Bronkie, Limetown is the latest to make the jump from podcast to television series, following in the footsteps of Sam Esmail and Julia Roberts conspiring to deliver Homecoming on Amazon Prime in 2018. Perhaps not coincidentally, Limetown and Homecoming have a lot in common — stylistically and tonally. Though their stories are wildly different, their intent is clear: to creep listeners — and now viewers — out with bizarre, labyrinthine plots involving conspiracies (potential and otherwise), missing or stolen memories, and the efforts of a dogged individual trying to uncover the truth, even at great personal risk.
And, like Homecoming, Limetown comes to streaming television as a manageable and arguably more enjoyable half-hour drama, which makes it all the more consumable and attractive to those leery of yet another new show demanding their attention on yet another (relatively) new streaming service. Although Limetown doesn’t have Academy Award-winner Julia Roberts as a social worker caught up in a clandestine scheme to manipulate soldiers returning home, it does have Jessica Biel, fresh off her Emmy-nominated (and career best work) in USA’s The Sinner. As it turns out, Biel is two-for-two with her television roles as of late, as Limetown again proves her to have an impressive dramatic presence and to serve as an effective emotional anchor for a show that’s none too eager to reveal its cards at the start.
The challenge of translating a Serial-like podcast (fictional or otherwise) into a compelling, serialized television drama certainly seems daunting. As the creator of Mr. Robot proved, though, it can be done, and it can even be done effectively, provided the right talent is involved. Limetown, with Biel, Ackers, and Bronkie on board, as well as Stanley Tucci, in a supporting role as Emile, the disappeared uncle of Biel’s character, Lia Haddock, seems to have gotten its creative ducks in a row early on, as the results are thoroughly unsettling from the start.
Biel cuts an impressive and sometimes intimidating figure as the dogged reporter determined to uncover the truth about Limetown, a fictional Tennessee town where 300 people vanished overnight, over a decade since the incident occurred and many years since the public and authorities seemingly lost interest in getting answers. The idea of a single-minded obsessive with diminished social skills and an aching personal need to know what happened, not only for the sake of her loved one, but for the sake of knowing the truth — because it’s out there, damn it! — is familiar to anyone who’s tuned into popular television or movies… well, ever. But that level of sameness does little to dilute the effectiveness of Biel’s performance or the series’ own intriguing premise.
The central mystery is simple but profound, in that it appeals to natural human curiosity, the desire to have answers to what is at worst a tragedy — provided the missing Limetown residents are dead — or at best a staggeringly complex conspiracy. Neither alternative is particularly comforting, and Limetown plays with the audience’s understanding that there’s no way this story is going to end particularly well for the presumed victims by ratcheting up the suspense with the help of some discomfiting scenes that register as more frightening because of their plausibility.
Case in point: the series begins with Lia recording an encounter with a strange man violently banging his head against her hotel room door, leaving a gruesome-looking bloodstain, while screaming at her to stop her investigation. It’s not a normal scream, by any sense of the word; it is borderline subhuman and, frankly, it’s terrifying. And while Limetown excels at creating such disturbing moments, it’s also adept at humanizing its story through piecemeal reveals of Lia’s complicated past with her parents, uncle, and a recent lover, which are elegantly edited into the main narrative, lending the story an almost abstract quality that enhances its disquieting design.
As Facebook Watch continues to push new series, whether the viewing public wants them or not, it will win favor by releasing more series like Sorry For Your Loss and Limetown. Programs like these helps justify the social media site’s entree into scripted television, and gives audiences some compelling new stories to watch in return.
Limetown premieres with its first two episodes on Tuesday, October 16 @10am PT.