Sometimes, a setting has to do a bit too much work.
“Hightown,” a new drama series on Starz, takes place in Provincetown — the gay mecca and artists’ enclave on the tip of Cape Cod. And while the series puts great effort into exposing other sides of the community, it doesn’t, elsewhere, transcend fairly simple character types, dragging us instead into recursive storytelling that’s outshone by the local color.
Jackie Quinones (Monica Raymund) is the character we follow most closely; she works for the National Marine Fisheries, but is drawn both into endemic local crime around the heroin crisis and deeper into her own addiction when she stumbles upon the dead body of a young woman in the water; she comes to work with a local cop (James Badge Dale) who’s connected to the victim, in the way of shows like these. Jackie is, among other things, our most significant representative of queer culture on “Hightown,” and she’s an interestingly chosen one: The wealthy white gay men who make Provincetown theirs every summer exist at the story’s margins, while the residents who make the town go — blue-collar people of color in many cases — take center stage.
With that said, though, Jackie’s spiral down feels photorealistic in a way that rubs up against what the show tries to do elsewhere. It reaches its nadir in a sequence with her fighting a cab driver that, for all its mundanity as another incident in a life full of them, feels bleak beyond purpose. That sort of endless repetition of mistakes can be productive in storytelling, but it’s a problem for a show that seems in other particulars so deeply rooted in forward-moving crime-show cliché; Jackie ends up somewhat left behind by the story. It’s not Raymund’s fault that the arc she’s given grinds her so relentlessly into the dirt — she plays the story well — but it’s a mismatch with story that elsewhere has loopy, “Ozark”-style megaviolence that’s purposefully heightened. The thing keeping us watching “Hightown” remains its setting as Jackie falls rung after rung, seeking and spurning help time and again — but a beach town, no matter how complicated its issues, can’t provide sufficient ballast to a story whose trajectory is so relentlessly downward.