Netflix is not only going for the “prestige” in its first run of original programming with House of Cards and Arrested Development. New entry Hemlock Grove is the pulpy, guilty pleasure every other modern dramatic network rolls out.
It’s easy to say that Netflix’s first forays into original programming — let’s exclude Lilyhammer, last year’s Steven Van Zandt dark comedy — are following the quality model that built networks like AMC, FX, and HBO from also-rans to premier dramatic destination.
But it’s easy to forget that both networks have been buoyed by the lower quality shlock that can draw big numbers. Walking Dead draws 10x the viewership of a Breaking Bad. True Blood has outpaced its weightier contemporaries on HBO for years. No one mistakes American Horror Story for Justified or even Sons of Anarchy but it stands to be a tentpole for FX for years to come.
Hemlock Grove is that grab for mindless, popcorn television.
Now that we’ve established that not every original show Netflix has to be art, let’s deal with the actual matter of Hemlock Grove: It’s just kind of there.
It’s a beautifully shot show — though not quite as stylish as the aforementioned True Blood or American Horror Story — about vampires and werewolves and rich kids and sex and all of the things you’d probably guess. That’s good. The acting ranges from Desperate Housewives quality (looking at you, Famke Janssen…I wish Liam Neeson would have let you and your in-and-out accent stay gone in Taken 2) to the equivalent of a CW also-ran (basically all of the young male characters). There’s blood, there are boobs almost immediately. It’s sort of interesting enough to maybe hook you in but not interesting enough to fully hold your attention. It’s breezy but at no point did I think it’s as “fun” as any of the other shows referenced above.
It’s a testament to Netflix’s lofty aspirations that we’re even talking about it. And it’s probably worth sampling for those same reasons.
The bottom line? Hemlock Grove is just kind of there. And maybe that makes Netflix more like every other big network than they actually intended.