Hemlock Grove Series Premiere Review: What a Beautiful Mess

Hemlock Grove S01E01: "Jellyfish in the Sky"

Oh Hemlock Grove, what to do with you? Netflix's newest original series is guaranteed to get its entire first season out to the masses because of Netflix's distribution model of "just throw it all out at once there no matter what." But if the show were subject to the typical network model of looking over its shoulder and relying on results-based performances from week to week, I'm not sure it would live to see Cinco de Mayo. We should all be thankful Hemlock Grove is in the Netflix family, because even though it's the television equivalent of pieces from several different (and incomplete) jigsaw puzzles thrown into the same box, we'll at least have the option to find out whether the pieces come together to form some comprehensible story by the season's end. Not getting closure from a television show is a travesty. The Netflix model guarantees we'll get closure from its series, even if they suck.

And yes, Hemlock Grove, an adaptation of Brian McGreevy's novel of the same name, kind of sucks. The horror is set in a small steel town in Pennsylvania where a young woman's murder—no, that's not good enough—a young woman's brutal disemboweling (that's better) shakes up the entire city. Though police are convinced the attack is the work of an animal, most of the skittish townfolk are convinced it's the work of a local gypsy boy named Peter (Landon Liboiron, who played one of television's all-time worst characters as Josh on Terra Nova but is much better in this) who recently moved to town. Now's probably a good time to mention he might be a werewolf. [Editor's note: He is, and widespread trailers for the series blatantly flaunt this fact, so don't call me Mr. McSpoiler.] 

The mysteries continue with the second main character, a blood-sucking rich kid named Roman Godfrey (Alexander Skarsgard's younger brother Bill), who's the heir to the town's big steel company. Roman is a deviant, and in the first episode he cut his finger open in the middle of doing the deed with a hooker so he could suck his own blood and smear his lady friend with it. Is he a vampire? Maybe. Probably.

The series rockets into the murmurings of a madman from there, with a host of tangential secondary characters full of intentionally unexplained quirks: a scientist who is more than a little mad doing secret experiments at Godfrey Enterprises; Roman's gigantic, shuffling sister who has a single bug eye and could more convincingly pass for the sister of Sloth from The Goonies; Roman's pretty blonde cousin who appears to be more than just friends with Roman (and who gets an even more bizarre storyline in Episode 2); and Roman's seductive mother Olivia (Famke Janssen) who we learned is also a creature of some sort, through a flashback to 2000 that was intentionally filmed like it was in 1950 for no apparent reason other than why the hell not? 

Yet for all these mish-mashed horror threads, Hemlock Grove appeared to be in no rush to exploit them, at least in the two episodes I watched. It's slow. Like, plate-tectonics slow. It also made zero effort to have any of its horror cornucopia (Horr-nucopia? Though I guess that sounds like something entirely different and NSFW) make sense. In many ways, Hemlock Grove seems to be trying to duplicate the delightful madness of American Horror Story, which compresse horror tropes into one solid brick of entertaining insanity with multiple winks and knowing nudges. However, Hemlock Grove is a more serious effort, which is odd given that it comes from horror aficionado Eli Roth, the same man who gave us the extremely and purposefully campy Cabin Fever, a popcorn-munching gore-fest with one of cinema's most bizarre endings. I adored Cabin Fever for it's unapologetic fun. Hemlock Grove doesn't share the same joy. 

The joy that is there seems to have all gone into the look of the series, which can be stunning at points, particularly in the forest surrounding Peter's trailer. But aside from its striking cinematography, Hemlock Grove mostly feels like an amateurish effort. The writing can be awful at times. (Sample dialogue from Episode 2: "How do you explain dancing to a person with no legs?" The response, "I have legs that won't quit." Say what?) That writing leads to several scenes that just happen with little to no detectable importance, and others that end in jarring fashion, as though the editor was in a hurry to beat traffic home. And the last domino to fall apparently smacked the actors on their heads; at times, they look just as bewildered as we do while trying to figure out what they're doing. 

But! And this is a J-Lo-sized "but," the puzzle analogy I used at the start of this review may be the key to the entire show. There might be a whole lot more to Hemlock Grove than initially appears, and that's where the Netflix model might save it. Despite being bored to the point of considering bodily harm to keep myself awake, I'm curious enough that I'm tempted to see where this bizarre series goes. And thanks to Netflix's entire-season dump, I can satisfy that curiosity instantly if I want to. Or at least I can read recaps by someone who's brave enough to spend 13 hours chasing closure.


How much of Hemlock Grove have you watched so far? What do you think?

Comments (66)
Submit
Sort: Latest | Popular
Oh my! I think the best thing to happen to this article is the comment down below asking why they didn't use real werewolves.

Excellent, I must say, that's excellent.

I loved the show despite the non-usgae of real werewolves. I love Roman's character. I think he's an interesting combo of things: child-like, arrogant, naive, empathetic. I think Bill Skargård is perfection for this part. (might also mention his mannerisms, his walk and stance are carbon copies of his brother Alexander.

The show is different, it's interesting and I was terribly excited to watch it as I did House of Cards.
I'm a fan, and hope any of you who get this show canceled will burn in imaginary hell.
8
Reply
Flag
I'm half way through and I have to admit, it is quite enjoyable. It makes me think of Twin Peaks a little bit. As said below, I was worried it would be like The Vampire Diaries, but it is quite different. I'm going for Episode 7 and 8 tonight ...
5
Reply
Flag
Saw episode two. Not for me. The acting is still pathetic, the dialogue pedestrian and no special effects, no even *REAL* *WEREWOLVES* can save this dog!
Reply
Flag
I liked it for the most part and will look for the second season. The aforementioned most part is Penelope Mitchell. I'm pretty sure she will be a big deal someday with many leather-bound books and an apartment that smells of rich mahogany.
6
Reply
Flag
I finally bothered to watch the first episode. What a mess. I can't remember the last time I was so bored and confused at the same time. I watched it mostly because of Famke, but not even her presence can make me continue watching.
4
Reply
Flag
Enjoying it so far, but who does the fact check for this series. USFWS, using PA DNR patch and truck and passing them off as USFWS, come on!
1
Reply
Flag
Netflix wowed us with House of Cards! Hemlock is as bad as HoC was good. Drink the poison already!
3
Reply
Flag
you may be right, there Slim...
1
Reply
Flag
the guys in this series are so hot it makes me dont even care about the awfully writen plot
6
Reply
Flag
I just hope it is not another serie with vampires and werewolves: how boring ...
2
Reply
Flag
I'm going to watch the show because Famke is in it (wall at least the 5 first episodes) and if not good, in the bin like so much other shows.
Reply
Flag
please help!
i only watched the first 2 eps last night. how did we go from the 2 guys being kinda friends...to i wanna watch your transformation?
did i miss something important where the rich kid had proof or was told that gypsy boy in a werewolf?
Reply
Flag
Peter and his mother knew what the Godfreys are (vampires) all along, I suspect that's why there was a bit of trust. Also, Peter and Roman were sharing the same dreams, which in normal life we may just think "creepy" but considering what these families are clearly meant more to Peter.
1
Reply
Flag
My god this is a terrible production. Not even the transformation at the end of episode 2 could convince me to watch episode 3. The dialog is terrible, the direction and acting is just a total waste. I wish you better luck next time Netflix.
5
Reply
Flag
Just watched the season and was a little confused in regards to the baby and Letha dying. Was letha's death the true sacrifice for Peter's transformation as a wolf? Also did Roman rape his cousin and therefore the baby is his own?
Reply
Flag
The baby is Romans, whether it was rape or not, I'm not totally sure, but does seem to lean that way. To be clear it was Olivia who did the compelling so that Roman and Letha would not remember what really happened.
1
Reply
Flag
Its slooooow! waaah! waaah! waaah!
Its boriiiing! waaah! waaah! waaah!

If you want Underworld: The Series, go cry to Kate about it....
This is HEMLOCK GROVE, where story development is deliciously slow baked at 325°, not handed to you in a drive-thru, with fries on the side.

I love the fact that this show takes traditional monster horror themes, and DESTROYS them. Hell, even Peter Romancek's werewolf tranformation is being called revolutionary, breaking the mold in the same vein that American Werewolf In London's transformation did in the 80's.

A review without watching the entire season?!? Two episodes?!? Really?!?
Well, in this age of 'me-mine-now-hurry up', I'm not surpised...
19
Reply
Flag
Bravo! You are exactly right. One can not critique a series by watching 20 minutes of the pilot. If you do not enjoy this genre of show don't bother watching it because frankly it will be over your head. Peter's transformation is fantastically gruesome and puts other shows/movies (TVD,Twilight) to shame. The complexity of the characters start as a simmer and continue to boil. I really hope Netflix continues with this show. I outgrew TVD and the constant whining of Elana and thought I would never find another show I liked as much. I was wrong. Hemlock Grove has filled the void!
3
Reply
Flag
I watched season 1 in two days and I loved it...I cant wait untill season 2 comes out...I hope its real soon
15
Reply
Flag
If you watch the whole season in one shot how is that a good thing? Set aside a day for season two and if it doesn't happen, well, you have a whole day to yourself...
Reply
Flag
I watched episode 1 in... a certain state.... and it was exhilarating. Then, I watched episode 2 the next day. I will not be watching episode 3.
2
Reply
Flag
The music is so so dreadful that it's almost comedic...almost, if it weren't darn boring I'd find it so bad i'd laugh very hard. The acting is TURABL...(cleveland's word)..its just turable!! PURi ED.
If your used to moderately budgeted or low budgeted English tv shows, then this one you will not have a problem with; as it exactly in that style or very possible it might be Canadian but this is all speculation as I haven't done my homework to find out...not yet anyhow. This is just me going off the first two episodes...so who knows where this can go. Funny enough I am intrigued by the show only because Netflix has not let me down yet...well they've only had one show that was quite good, if not great; House of Cards...LOVED IT...Plus they are bringing us Arrested Development again so that's a no brainer...
With all that Netflix has brought to the table I have to give this show a little bit more of a chance....not too much slack but just enough to see if it will hang itself.....then possibly bring itself back to life, with Vamp blood, only to have taken too much and turn into a Vampire that sucks the very boredom right out of me leaving me exhilarated from all the excitement or it can die a very long drawn out death...but the only thing that's worse than it dying a very long drawn out death is watching and getting bored to DEATH!!
but we'll see...If anything, I'm hoping it's going to get better...or somehow the style of the series grows on me..not holding my breath for that one.
More+
2
Reply
Flag
Sounds like it ain't gonna make it...
1
Reply
Flag
Never know buckO...Just finished the whole dang Season....and.....mmmm...IDK..I'd say let sleeping dogs lie....DEAD!!! LOL, it could have been really good but it pretty much blew it. The dang Asian guy from "THE TOWER", The Dr. I mean...The worst fuckin actor I've seen in a long time.. and if the director didn't see that....then well, deserves a goodbye smack on the tush
Reply
Flag
It's kinda Twilight Peak'ish so far, I'll probably watch the rest of this if I find myself bored.
1
Reply
Flag
It is a wonderful show. I don't believe in "laying your cards all out" during the first episode. Love the obscurity of it all. It is pure bliss when a show leaves you "wanting more" at the end of an episode. I am excited for this series and hope the positive feedback keeps it alive.
16
Reply
Flag
I spen the whole day on saturday to watch this back2back with my cider.
I loved the show the effects of the wolf changes were stunning, Great cast good acting but bits missing about that blue glow of the large girl. anyway hope for a season 2 the cinematography was great good for Netflix to stream the whole series,,, get the time to watch it again this week to get more of a story,, enjoyed it
11
Reply
Flag
Totally disagree here. I've only watched the first ep and I was anything but bored but Tim and I have been on different pages lately with his love for the awful Defiance so there's that....
14
Reply
Flag
Literally incredible. I watched the first season over two days and all I can say is i was stifling "Holy S***" and "WTF" the entire way!!! if there isn't a season 2 i'm going to have a mental breakdown.
21
Reply
Flag
I've already seen the whole season and it was AWESOME!!! I can't wait for Season 2!!! I stayed up watching the whole Season from11pm to 12pm the next day.. All I can say to the person that wrote this review...It was a very riveting and suspenseful series and I hope there are plenty of more seasons to come!!!!
17
Reply
Flag
Watched the whole series this weekend. Didn't get much else done. Really enjoyed it bring on season two!!!!!!!!
13
Reply
Flag
I am a HUGE fan of Vampires, Zombies and Werewolves. I saw the trailer and thought, great finally something about werewolves. I watched him turn and I was like, yeah, yeah, turn baby, turn, eyes popping out, teeth popping out, YEAHHHHHH, finally... WT..... a DOG (Wolf) ??? A DOG (Wolf) ??? Are you kidding me??? What a HUGE disappointment. If only Netflix would have used actual werewolves the show would have been a much bigger hit, but no they had to use dogs (wovles). This show is not going to last. Lost us when we saw the guy turn into a freaking dog (wolf). Get it together movie and show makers, get it together!!! Thumbs completely down for Hemlock Grove.
3
Reply
Flag
If only Netflix had used actual werewolves? You know werewolves aren't real, right?
9
Reply
Flag
This s what happens when kids watch too much twilight saga. They think the actual werewolves exist. The dude turned into a wolf. That was an actual wolf. The series bored me, i wont be going past the 3rd episode, i fell asleep
2
Reply
Flag
I watched the entire season in 2 days. I loved it! I loved all of the characters. Best show I have seen in a long time. I cannot wait for a second season!
17
Reply
Flag
*spoilers* I finished the show last night and couldn't stop talking about it with my flatmate. I really enjoyed it. I will admit, it is sort of slow paced, mostly in revealing the overall mythology. I had no idea that the Godfreys were vampires until the last episode when it was finally revealed, and to me, that is good television. While it seems like the show could end there as a series, it is certainly left open for another season dealing with Roman Godfrey and the Order of the Dragons. I'm not sure how they can bring Peter (the werewolf) back, as it seems the gypsy custom of moving on to another town was in full effect by the end. However; Peter could decide to come back upon hearing of Romans troubles, being that there is a clear bombing of the Godfrey hospital being plotted by the former sheriff.

While the overall mythologies of both werewolves and vampires was different from what I was used to and expecting I did enjoy it very much and am looking forward to another season. My flatmate kept recommending that I pace myself watching the episodes but I just couldn't help myself. The show begs to be watched intently and immediately so as not to forget any of the subtle clues that are being dropped throughout the series, like Roman compelling himself to be calm by looking into his own eyes in the mirror. I totally didn't realize that was what he was doing until the final episode and then I was like "ah ha", the whole series I thought he just had telepathy. Now I'm left wondering why Olivia chose to let Shelly live when she was bent on killing so many of her offspring that didn't exhibit the traits she was looking for at birth. Does anyone know for sure who was in the Chamber in the hospital? I was a little confused on that note. I was thinking maybe Juliette or an Olivia clone perhaps...
More+
8
Reply
Flag
On the scond episode the kid was eating out a girl in the bathroom when she seemed to have her period. It seemed to me he was a vampire.
2
Reply
Flag
I totally missed that she was on her period, thanks for that lol
Reply
Flag
i hate your review about hemlock grove..i think it is an awesome show!!!!!..i dont think u r giving this show a chance cuz it has me enthralled i i just finished watchin it today..i do not think it is slow i has me wanting more each episode..im lookin forward to more!!!
19
Reply
Flag
Wondering if Shelly is a tribute to Mary Shelly..
10
Reply
Flag
Yes it was a tribute to Mary Shelly
5
Reply
Flag
Absolutely LOVED it! It confuses me to how you can write a review based on 'the two episodes I watched' though, REALLY? It gets better as it goes on. People complain if it gets into it to quickly and doesn't explain things , and people complain if its too slow! The casting crew picked some excellent talent for this show. Bill Skarsgård I think will do fantastically in his career and is just a much of a hotty as his brother. Landon Liboiron I agree is a lot better in this than in Terra Nova, better looking with age also comes to mind. There are characters you will love , and character you will really dislike , and characters you really want to see more of. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE Nextflix bring us a second series!
15
Reply
Flag
If you watch two episodes and they suck, why watch more? It's kinda like saying that you slammed your hand in a car door and decided not to ever do that again, which in my book is pretty good thinking...
1
Reply
Flag
3 episodes in, and I love it. I don't care if it's a mess, or has a crazy story line (I disagree Tim). Roman's sister is a really original character, and I hope to see more development, maybe toward homicidal tendencies.Also hoping to see more types of critters, ala Grimm, come into the open. Peter and Roman have a good Tru Blood friend/enemy vibe going, without being a blatant copy. Hopefully the story develops to make this an even more independent show.
19
Reply
Flag
This comment has been removed.
Reply
Flag
You know, this doesn't work any better than this idiotic show...
2
Reply
Flag
Watched the whole thing and loved it , and I love netflix for coming out with there own content and also finally giving us the type of release model my generation has been starving for. I will always support netflix for these 2 things but also because they actually listen to there viewers and implement the changes we want to see, finally a company that can back up the statement of not just being in it for the money. Thank you netflix <3
17
Reply
Flag
I started getting interested around episodes 7 only because I started to get invested in the possible fate of two characters (no one of them is definitely not Roman). Everyone else I couldn't care less about. A little interested in see how it all ends.
Reply
Flag
I enjoyed it---beautifully filmed with interesting characters--some you love, some you hate and some that show character growth. Some plot devices were stupid and some plots/arcs didn't work but others were great--over all it was enjoyable. The hot guys (and for other viewers-hot girls) were a big plus.

Bill Skarsgard reminded me of a cross between Alexander Skarsgard and Steve Buscemi...worth check out just for him.

Some was predictable but some was a surprise (the sister towards the end and other plots).

I watched it in one sitting and found it entertaining. I went in with low expectations and it was better then I thought since I ended up liking it.
12
Reply
Flag
OK I had time to spare and watched the whole thing.
To anyone who wonders about watching the whole thing. Yeah it's OK.
I didn't feel disappointed by the end, but only because, as others have written it's just beautifully, but not well made.
It's as cheesy as cheese in a mouse trap and as dark as a mouse with a broken neck.
It's slowness isn't as bad as it's made out to sound.
I felt like the dialogue was smart and philosophical. And to flesh that out takes the slow pace to try to live in the moment of the dialogue. It doesn't all have to make sense. Like an R.E.M. song might sound great and it's lyrics aren't intended to make sense just sound good.
I found that Netflix's experiment of delivering all the episodes at once actually is helping this series for me. The slow pace was appropriate and they kept all the individual scenes from becoming stale with repetition. But if I didn't have the ability to watch in rapid succession, I'm not sure I would have continued with the series on a weekly basis.
To that effect, I think the creators might have taken too many shortcuts in the writing and plot development because they knew they could get away with people being able to race through the series rather than have to work harder to hold the audiences attention. I mean why bother to make each segment really great when viewers can just sprint through a mediocre episode or plot point to a better or more exciting next act.
I'm being a little unfair in that I do think they managed to do a good job keeping the quality of most pieces consistent.
I think the biggest let down is that if you're watching and figure the end results out by the 2nd or 3rd episode, then you will wind up knowing what's going to happen throughout.
I think if you don't already know (or suspect) the results of the final episode by the first 3, then you might really be riveted by the end. But for me the last 2 episodes were just a forgone conclusion. I might guess that if they deliberately made it so easy to foresee the end early on, then the dread of build up to the "inevitable" conclusion with characters who can't escape their fate is kind of cool. But if they were hoping for a shock or twist ending then they failed. To me it came off that they were going for the shock ending.
I still enjoyed the series just for the atmosphere. The pace does pick up nearer the end so it's not as slow to watch. I concur with others that the atmosphere of dread remains universal and consistent throughout. That sounds like it's tempting to just watch the last few episodes. But the way they fragment the layout of the storyline really does demand watching all the episodes to fully appreciate the story arcs. If someone only goes in to watch just a few (last) episodes, they're not going to get anything out of it. They actually did do a good job of making a viewer want to sit through a 13 hour movie.
Somehow it does manage to hit on all the old (Universal) horror tropes without becoming a cliche. Although, a little less finesse and it would have come off as a "Van Helsing" style mess. But they pulled it off and credit for that.
The ending leaves the expectations that were built up for the characters in complete disarray either because they're dead (maybe) or flipped. And I wasn't able to invest most of my interest in the characters enough. I was more invested in what would happen. So while it's set up for a next "season", I'm not sure I was left caring enough to come back for more.
More+
4
Reply
Flag
How can anyone be bored with the the hot blonde dude and the brown haired wolf. They are both at least worth the watch. I can't believe what I am reading. With all the sex and creepiness, definitely not boring.
12
Reply
Flag
1. Tim is straight.
2. I was never planning on watching this, but I ended up seeing the first one and in my assessment, Tim was EXTREMELY generous. It was deeply boring (also, not wanking). I'm really quite content that I'll never see another episode. Tim, next time you end up with an assignment like this, I suggest stabbing your leg with a mechanical pencil: pain is sharp enough to keep you alert, but leaves no lasting marks.
Reply
Flag
Tim's papers are very often better than the shows they talk about. This has been one of them.
Reply
Flag
I absolutely loved this show, and it was worth the wait. The author who said they were bored must have been wanking while watching because there is no way this show could be considered boring. I love all the characters. The creepy jumbled story lines. Bill Skarsgard is so damn hot. It is unreal. Rich, blond, vampire, bad boys are my sweet tooth. The only think I would say is a negative about this show is they released all of the episodes at once so now I have to wait for season two.
13
Reply
Flag
I found it slow as well, but it wasn't as painful as you have made it sound. I kept going back to when I was watching "Twin Peaks". It started out slow and the characters developed slowly.

The reason why I will watch it through the end will be to help promote this delivery system. I am one of many that has cut the chord. I personally will support any production that supports chord cutting. We over pay for cable to watch nothing, paying for Netfilx, Hulu Plus and Amazon, at least I get content that I can choose to pay for or not.
19
Reply
Flag
I was wondering why this show sounded so mediocre until I saw the part about it being by Eli Roth.

Mystery solved.
1
Reply
Flag
On another note, Nathan Barr, who does the amazing music for True Blood, is also scoring this series. That's a plus in my book.
4
Reply
Flag
I made it through 7 episodes and was still bored and very little has started to come together yet.
1
Reply
Flag
It's at least intriguing me right now, and it seems like it could have enough shocking moments to keep the intrigue flowing...
3
Reply
Flag
Just finished episode 3. I'm bored today so ill put myself through a couple more hoping it gets a bit more "gripping". The characters just need a little bit more depth and every sexual encounter reminds me of Cruel Intentions. You don't ever feel like any one of them truly cares or loves one another, there are just tons of drawn out lines exchanged. It Needs to be more upbeat at times just so when it gets creepy it can stand out more but instead just a soundtrack of mysterious melodies that make you tired and confused at what's going on.
4
Reply
Flag
In other words, Eli Roth lives up to his over-hype, meaning he fails to deliver yet again.

Thank you for this honest review highlighting the rightness of offering a complete product yet no praising the show just because it's on Netflix!
3
Reply
Flag
Famke Janssen... please leave.....

you're wasting your talent...
1
Reply
Flag
Just watched the first three. I'm really liking all the mistery behind it. I know they will answer most of it by the end of the season. I'll keep watching it.
7
Reply
Flag
How would you compare this show to Harper's Island? Not so much the storyline, but the pace and level of tension? Ability to hold interest?
Reply
Flag
I generally like your reviews Tim but this time I have to disagree. I watched the first episode and I really liked the characters that were introduced. Yes, they all have a secret but that's the point of the series. We don't know who killed the girl and just like "The Killing" the whole season is dedicated to this mistery. Solving it in just two episodes wouldn't be fun at all. I like to try and figure out who is who (or what is who in this case) and what could possibly have killed the girl. It seems like you expactations were too high for this show and now you are hating al the little things about it. I'll keep watching Hemlock Grove no matter what and I advise people to do the same. At least give it a chance before being crushed down by this review.
14
Reply
Flag
I agree i really enjoyed the first two episodes, and i dont really know what you want from this show be thankfull we live in an age were we can watch the whole season at once. I know it no breaking bad but still a pretty good show
6
Reply
Flag
I'll watch the last three episodes max...... Find out who got the girl killed and full stop.....
1
Reply
Flag
Load More Comments

Like TV.com on Facebook