Of all the things to adapt for television, why would anyone choose a debut novel? Indeed, some books debut to fanfare, the authors lauded for their literary skill but Hemlock Grove and its author, Brian McGreevy, don't belong in that camp. McGreevy's publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, have published award-winning authors, but again McGreevy isn't one of them.
I vaguely recall seeing this book at the bookstore and I might have been curious about it. But then I likely dismissed it because I don't like werewolf stories. I'll admit, this does bias me somewhat. And I'm not a fan of Eli Roth, either. So there's that. But I do like mysteries. I was willing to give a werewolf mystery TV show produced by Eli Roth a fair chance.
Truth be told, I did kind of enjoy the first half of the season. It had intrigue: brutal murders; a shady medical research facility; church-sanctioned monster hunters; a gypsy werewolf; a would-be vampire; teen pregnancy. I was curious to see how all the characters' stories would intersect, what the outcome would be. Would the unlikely pair of Roman and Peter identify the crazed werewolf that's eating the townsfolk before Dr. Chasseur finishes her investigation? What is project Ouroburos and is it connected at all to the various dragon references made throughout? And what, exactly is Oliva's role in everything that's taking place?
The answers, when they finally came, ranged from stupid to disappointing. Hemlock Grove, more so than any other horror TV series in recent memory, managed to piss away its potential resulting in what appears to be a hastily-assembled mash of plotlines. Hastily-assembled, and it took nearly thirteen hours to tell the story.
All of Hemlock Grove's story is crammed into the back end, and the final episode is less an end and more of a waypoint, a place to check your progress along a tiresome winding road. This kind of story telling is at best amateur, at worst deceptive. Moreover, there's very little investigation that takes place in what is, ostensibly, a murder mystery. Rather, the show's running time is devoted almost entirely to relationships and feelings, and what little horror there is exists only in terms of premise and special effects.
Gripping werewolf murder mystery or prime-time family drama?
Rich pretty-boy Roman is the only character with any arc, and even he takes a powder halfway through the season. To suggest that Hemlock Grove's twisting plot is what keeps the show interesting only proves that you don't know what a plot twist is. Hemlock Grove holds no surprises, or any real closure for that matter. Character plots don't intersect in any way that make sense and the various stories being told are properly developed to provide the viewer with any sense of forward momentum.
In short, the story goes nowhere and then, as if realizing it took too long, it rushes toward an end that defies logic and undermines expectations. It's disappointing in the extreme and upsetting to think everything that happened was just laying the foundation for a second season. I haven't felt this cheated since Underworld.
Hemlock Grove has all the potential to be a really good mini-series. A shorter format would cut out all the fat, but alas the greedy folks at Netflix had to go whole hog with a whole thirteen episodes of what is mostly filler. But maybe it's not their fault. Maybe that's just what you get when you pick a first-time novelist to write you a TV show.