Netflix UK TV review: Hemlock Grove Season 2
Chris Bryant | On 19, Jul 2014
A troubled young girl – caught up in mysterious and dangerous goings on – is torn between her love for the rugged werewolf and the tall, blonde vampire in a town that exudes grunge and rains endlessly. Sound familiar? It should, but what’s actually going on is Season 2 of Hemlock Grove, Netflix’s horror/fantasy, which is too focused on being cool and popular to require any originality.
Hemlock Grove’s second outing sacrifices the gruff, perpetually smoking and often flirtatious relationship between gypsy werewolf Peter and billionaire vampire (sorry, “upir”) Roman to make way for their solo projects; linked only by new addition Miranda Cates (Orange Is The New Black’s Tricia – Madeline Brewer), who bounces between them, always undressing and always unquestioning of the murderous happenings and unexplained baby.
True to form, Peter (brooding, Jared Leto-esque Landon Liboiron) struggles with more future-laden dreams, this time revolving around masked men staging murders as accidents, while Roman (the intense Bill “Yet Another” Skarsgard) continues to rebel against his mother and battle his growing need to consume blood.
Season 2 somehow manages to hit all the bum-notes and clichés that Season 1 missed. A vampire (upir!) fighting their lethal instincts is not news to any television screen of late and Hemlock’s repetitive returning to that particular story arc wears thin instantly. It does, however, give more screen time to the cryptic and personality-less Dr Johann Pryce (Joel de la Fuente), who may be a progressive, ruthless genius but may as well be a mannequin in a white coat for all the purpose given him by the cast and crew. Peter’s story follows a similar route; aimlessly trying to solve crimes, his inability to be of any interest at least brings his cousin Destiny into the spotlight. Infinitely more empathetic than Pryce, she alternates between telling Peter to ignore his nightmares and performing magic in order to direct him.
Even with the additions to the main cast, there’s a noticeable gap in the show. After her bloody end in Season 1, Olivia Godfrey – fixed up once more by Dr Pryce – is busy recuperating. Still plaguing her ex-brother-in-law with hypnotic sexual demands and occasionally killing people, Famke Janssen’s vampiric (UPIRIC!) seductress is far quieter, far softer and far more dressed than anyone is used to. Cast out by Roman and engaging mostly with de la Fuente’s dull enigma, Janssen’s leading lady is wasted. Where the producers and writers used to hand her blood-soaked lines about lineage and honour, this season has her doing karaoke and, apparently, living in a greenhouse.
Season 2’s antagonist – in a show packed with antagonists – is a group of people hell-bent on killing, getting away with it, and self-harming. Drawn out, slow and unexciting, the arc serves only to provide more ferocious and intimidating visuals rather than any actual interest. In fact, you can usually use their appearances to mark a coffee/cigarette interval.
Aside from Peter, whose multiple problems come and go quite conveniently, the only visible protagonist is Shelley. Outcast by society (even more than when she was just mocked and whispered about), she’s now on the run. As likable as she is, her journey isn’t a long one; bits and pieces are dished out over several episodes, never quite meaty enough to sink your pointy upir teeth into. The writers primarily have her showing her soft side towards the weak and her strength towards their tormentors, which was all quite roundly covered in the first season finale. Overlooked and underused, the reanimated Godfrey girl could’ve filled her mother’s shoes, if only the producers took note of their audience beyond the post-Twilight masses.
Season 1 may have been ropey but the character relationships forced it ahead and kept you engaged on some level. With the major players split up, Olivia complaining about her age, and a very human bad guy, Season 2’s production team – led by new showrunner, Charles Eglee – smothers Eli Roth’s horror-encyclopedia influence with nods to Slavic folklore. If fans of Bella, Jacob and Edward are now old enough to demand a little sex, drugs and violence from their fantasy entertainment, Hemlock Grove might just hit the spot. The chances are, though, they’ll join others in finding it cheap, soulless and lacking bite. This is a salad that wants to be a rare steak.
Photo Credit: Brooke Palmer for Netflix