A Look at HBO’s Latest Limited Series
Marni Noxon has, particularly in the past few years, become an expert at creating characters that, even in the age of Peak TV, are hard to find: the antiheroines. In UnReal, she pulled back the curtain on reality to television to reveal a world just as manipulated as so much network TV, but essentially controlled by two very twisted creative forces, magnificently portrayed by Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer. This year, on the intriguing new series, Dietland, she has created a world of #TimesUp gone mad, where women begin acts of terror based on their aggressors, where body shamers meet horrible fates, and where even the most powerful women know how perilous their positions are, and will gladly turn on those below them.
Now, on HBO’s Sharp Objects, Noxon leads us into the bucolic small towns that we call part of Real America, and reveals them to be just as ugly and frightening as everything else. In this world, she is guiding by two women who are dominant in their chosen professions: Gillian Flynn, best selling novelist, who wrote the novel this is based on, and every episode, the queen of the modern noir and the broken women at the center of them, and Amy Adams, one of the most beautiful and talented actresses working today, who, despite her five Oscar nominations, has been most commonly known for playing innocents with dark underbellies.
In the series, Adams plays Camille Preaker, a vodka swilling, emotionally damaged, newspaper journalists, sent by her editor Curry to follow a story in her hometown of Wind Gap, where a murder took place last year, and another girl has disappeared. Curry is notably the only person in the entire narrative who doesn’t think harshly of Camille. Camille clearly hates being back and town, where her mother (Patricia Clarkson, darker then we’ve ever seen her) has a position of power in the town, and clearly disdains her daughter.
As the crimes begin to unfold, it is clear that there are very dark undercurrents to Wind Gap that not even the police investigating the crime seems interesting in pursuing. The major detective on the case, Richard Willis (Chris Messina, one of the industries most undervalued talents) is blocked by every avenue by Chief Vickery, who doesn’t value anything he says that doesn’t fit his world view. Camille, reluctantly, finds herself drawn more and more into the investigation, which she clearly sees linked to an as yet unspecified death in her past.
Much of this captivating, and like so many HBO projects, it is extremely well cast. (In addition to the actors I’ve mentioned, Matt Craven and Elizabeth Perkins have small roles that also add a lot of flavor.) Yet I have to admit, there are underlying obstacles with the series so far that lend doubts to ranking it as brilliant as some of the previous works of art that pervade many limited series of the day. For starters, there’s the fact that this is an eight episode series of a book that, in its paperback edition, was under three hundred pages. Not having read it, I deeply wonder whether or not this series will be subject to a ridiculous amount of padding. Also, the editing of this series is very bizarre — every few minutes, we cut to scenes from Camille’s past or the investigation that offer no context and seem more random than anything else. It seems far too much out of Terence Malick than Jean-Marc Vallee, who had more control in Big Little Lies. Perhaps they’ll be some kind of payoff later on, but now it just seems a distraction.
Doubts aside, this is still the most fascinating project to come out of HBO so far in 2018. One can see why the network was drawn to it: in setting and story, it bares a resemblance to the first season of True Detective, minus the overwhelming nihilism. (It’s dark, but not that dark… yet). Compared the fantasies that have the strongest following, this is set in a world that is far too real. I just hope that Noxon and co have the good sense to let the end be the end.
My score: 4 stars.