While a loyal contingent was inclined to give “Hemlock Grove” the benefit of the doubt in a “So bad it’s good” way, watching the opening of the second go-round still tips the scales toward so bad — and boring — that it’s just plain bad. For all the kudos Netflix has garnered with its prestige series, this horror offering from Eli Roth is probably every bit as helpful in attracting and pleasing a certain elusive niche of subscribers. Nevertheless, efforts to improve the show, or just make sense out of it, have largely foundered, despite the addition of veteran showrunner Charles H. (Chic) Eglee.
At its core, “Hemlock Grove” is the latest twist on groovy monsters, situated in a small town with vampires (OK, upir), werewolves and secrets — another supernatural soap, only with buckets of blood and the requisite nudity to differentiate it from CW fare.
For it to work, however, requires an audience willing to be wowed by trifles — impressed by the werewolf transformations, for example, presumably because they never saw “An American Werewolf in London” or “The Howling.”
It would frankly require far too much energy to connect where the second season begins to the chaotic manner in which the first concluded. But suffice it to say the story still centers around Roman (Bill Skarsgard), son of a wealthy and powerful family; and Peter (Landon Liboiron), the progeny of Gypsies, who has a habit of turning hairy whenever the moon’s full.
Set in a Pennsylvania town that has traded in steel mills for biotech and mad scientists, this adaptation of Brian McGreevy’s novel certainly doesn’t spare any expense in terms of spurting blood, even if that means throwing in dream sequences to keep the crimson tide flowing.
For his part, Roman spends much of the second season trying to avoid sucking the life out of people, while his imperious mother (Famke Jansen) remains hobbled (understandably) by past events. Peter, meanwhile, has money troubles, in part because he’s trying to get his mom (Lili Taylor) out of prison.
Mostly, the show exists for its gross-out moments, always a staple of the latenight TV/movies-studios-don’t-screen-for-critics circuit. Still, it’s not like there’s a shortage of places to find either, and the plotting is so haphazard there’s scant incentive to hang around for this season’s 10 hours (six were previewed), much less the urgency necessary to binge them. Even allowing for budgetary and logistical limits, the greatest danger thus far is in being talked to death.
The show’s initial nods to earlier horror also feel more muted, at least until Madeleine Martin (“Californication”) belatedly shows up under heavy makeup, thanklessly echoing a monster-and-wide-eyed-kid beat from James Whale’s early Frankenstein films.
Oh, and the less said about the creepy baby, probably the better.
Strategically, it’s not hard to see Netflix’s strategy — even within its cloistered metrics — by adding a brand-name patch of horror to its original-programming quilt. After the second helping from this “Grove,” however, quaffing a cup of hemlock sounds preferable to watching a third.