Sunday, July 13, 2014

Hemlock Grove, Pennsylvania

Hemlock Grove, PA with its "White Tower" in the distance
In the western Pennsylvania town of Hemlock Grove stands the tallest skyscraper in the state, at least according to the Netflix original of the same name. Somehow my love of Arrested Development and Jason Statham movies prompted Netflix to suggest that I might like a story about an old coal town run by demons and tormented by werewolves. 

Netflix was right, I love it. But not because it's good...but because like everything else in its genre, it's an addictive runaway train of absurd subplots and cliffhangers. 

It's a drug.

Despite horrible reviews, the low budget Twilight franchise was a wild success and inspired the same copycats we saw following Lost Boys.

But shouldn't it be over? 

Everyone knows the cycle of gothic horror movies and television shows: Vampires then werewolves then zombies. And by the time viewers start analyzing how creepy it is that centuries old vampires are seducing high school girls, Hollywood returns to Melrose Place.

World War Z should have been the end. But the ever-growing real estate of modern media affords a corner for every interest. Long gone are the days when shows' creators had to fight for a prime time spot on one of three networks and Fox was a newcomer, when safe formulaic family sitcoms and cop dramas were the only shows to receive a green light.

Today, when ABC cancels a show, its fans create a Facebook page and fight to have it moved to Showtime. Meanwhile Netflix and Hulu are creating their own unique programming free from the confines of Standards and Practices and thirty minute time slots. Some of it's great, some of it's awful, but it's usually watchable. And given the online option to binge watch shows like Hemlock Grove, we don't lose interest in the week following a cliffhanger. 

Unfortunately the series that makes western Pennsylvania look like a haven of wealthy fashionistas full of grandiose mansions doesn't live up to its potential.

The vagueness of the first episode appeared to be a reincarnation of Twin Peaks, setting the tone for a story surrounding the murder of a popular high school cheerleader while focusing on the quirky and torrid double lives of seemingly normal American archetypes. 

It's too bad. 

Despite Hemlock Grove's watchability, Hollywood has toyed with reinventing Twin Peaks multiple times with The Killing and the unsuccessful Happy Town. While it's evident that networks and producers see a market for revisiting the cult classic, each attempt has focused on the literal aspects of Twin Peaks while ignoring what made it so unique: the fact that it wasn't really a story about a murder, but a series of individual vignettes and nightmarish imagery. It was never meant to make sense.

Today's horror trades David Lynch's macabre introspection for gore and screams because producers likely understand that the reason Twin Peaks didn't last is the exact same thing that made it special, leaving us with stories like Hemlock Grove, shows that encompass the mechanics of Twin Peaks without the maniac behind the wheel.

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