Book-to-Television Review : Hemlock Grove


I was debating another book review, or perhaps another fitness-related post, but after watching this made-for-Netflix series at the behest of my better half, this seemed the better choice.    Besides, who doesn’t enjoy writing about a fantasy/sci fi/horror show filled with nudity and excessive gore?

My husband introduced this to me as a possible show for us to watch together.   He had heard about it online somewhere and it was popular with that crowd, so we loaded it up.Keep in mind that I’ve never heard of this show — or the book it’s based on — before.

The preview trailers that Netflix has on Hemlock Grove’s page are intriguing.   The author of the books has laid out some interesting characters, including mythology from Scandinavian vampires (“upyr”) and werewolves.     I was actually excited to hit the play button, daydreaming of finding another series -on par with Merlin or the Dresden Files! – to satisfy our collective nerd-needs.

Unfortunately, the series as a whole was a bit disappointing.   It was fraught with terrible potential, the ability to be the greatest supernatural vampires-and-werewolves show anyone has spit out in the last decade, but sadly fell short due to a variety of reasons.    The bones were there, buried beneath erratic plot lines and cool special effects (the change of the werewolf was particularly unique, if bloody).    Obviously the writer(s) were not skilled at translating a manuscript to the screen and the show suffered overall for it.

Synopsis of the show :    The plot is centered around the town of Hemlock Grove and its most prominent family, the Godfreys.   The matriarch of the Godfrey family is Olivia, who proves to be a manipulative, emotionally detached, and decidedly less-than-human creature.     She shares the family mansion with her teenage son, Roman, and her significantly-named teenage daughter, Shelley.

Roman seems to be your typical spoiled rich kid, who enjoys employing prostitutes to meet him in his car and having sex with virtually every other girl he meets.   And of course, he’s addicted to drugs, drinks, and smokes.    I think we can safely guess that this character is our “bad boy”.    If you had any doubts, he also cuts himself for fun and drives around — really fast! — in his sporty red collector’s convertible.

The first glimpse of the incredibly supernatural we are exposed to is Shelley.   Shelley is a 7-foot-tall girl who wears her hair over half of her face to conceal one abnormally round, completely black, bulging eye.    The hair itself is actually a wig, which covers the fact that her skull is woefully scarred and/or misshapen.    Shelley wears a black ensemble throughout the series, presumably to cover other deformities, leaving only her bandaged hands and large feet exposed.      She is mute and talks via typing into a program on her phone, and also glows blue when touched on the face or experiencing any extreme emotion.    The exact reason that Shelly is so strangely disabled is never fully explained, but can be inferred while watching the show in its entirety.

Later on, we also meet Peter and his mother, Lynda.   Peter and Lynda are gypsies, outcast from the main group due to some transgressions on the part of Lynda’s father, whose house they have come to live in.   Peter and Lynda are immediately disliked by the Godfreys and darn near the entire town, sans one curious would-be author named Christina.      Oh, and Peter just happens to be a werewolf, which he tells Christina quite candidly.   We can only assume she thinks he’s joking.

There are a handful of other characters, but it would take an eternity to describe them all.  Suffice it to say, this is a murder mystery, psychological thriller, fantasy fiction, science fiction, and horror book-to-movie all rolled up into one.

The storyline of this show is that a teenage girl is murdered in Hemlock Grove, Pennsylvania.    At first, Peter is believed to have committed the crime due to his recent arrival in the town (and discrimination towards gypsies for some reason), which prevents him from leaving.   Eventually it is discovered that the culprit is an animal, and through a series of events, most of the characters become involved in trying to figure out who/what the murderer is.     Many gory events take place along the way, thrilling, disgusting, and beautiful all at the same time.

Primary complaints :

  • Too much going on.   The first three episodes are insanely slow.   The murder in question happens in the first episode, but a large chunk of time is spent displaying each primary character’s attributes in overt ways.   This includes a copious number of scenes which involve Showtime-worthy nudity and copulation.      Due to this attention to unnecessary detail, many questions remain unanswered at the end of the season.   It almost feels like the author or the screenplay writer had certain affinities for certain scenes and just couldn’t let go enough to allow the show to be adapted properly.   I’m hoping that Season 2 (which i was just informed has been announced) will tie up some of those ends — even if i only read the spoilers to get closure.
  • Irrational character behavior.     Sometimes, the characters’ actions or words would literally cause me to facepalm.    There are also a couple instances where formerly-feuding characters would become fast friends with little or no rationalization.


  • Every female character, sans one, is a S-L-You-Know-What.     Seriously.   By the end I was convinced that the high school only had a couple virgins left in it, that every female had been taught to speak by a sailor, and that the Valley Girl accent was back in style.    I appreciate that they were trying to go for sex appeal, but not every female character needs to be chomping at the bit to give a boob shot or talk about sex.


  • Ridiculous exaggeration of certain attributes.   Without giving away all the fun, my strongest complaint is about the evil-scientist-type doctor employed by the Godfrey’s family business.    He is by far the most caricatured character in the whole bunch, though Roman and Olivia follow closely behind.   He has been exaggerated to the point of being silly and contrived, though the actor playing him does a good job trying to act his way out of it.   It’s simply impossible to beat this script, however.    The same goes for Olivia and Roman.  Famke Jannsen (who played Dr. Jean Grey in the X-Men trilogy) and Bill Skarsgard do their best, but one can only do so much with what they’re handed.

Overall, I have resolved not to give up on this one.   I usually find that the book is better than the movie or television show, so I plan on buying a copy.   Then I can come back and answer questions for anyone inspired to watch this minor train wreck. 😉      I do give it a 3.5/5 just for originality and awesome cinematography, despite all of it.     It’s a beautifully filmed show with great concepts, just needs a little spit polish for season 2 to make more sense.


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