When Hemlock Grove premiered last year, the werewolf-themed promotional art suggested it would be Netflix’s answer to True Blood: a horror tale with liberal amounts of gore and self-aware humor. But the series itself had loftier ambitions, drawing as much from Twin Peaks as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, right down to the central narrative in which a town deals with the brutal death of a high school girl. Stuck between horror and surrealist small-town mystery, though, Hemlock Grove succeeded at neither. As a series about rural America, it had nothing to say, and as a series about werewolves, there was a surprising lack of werewolves. Worst of all, the first season was a painful slog, stuffing hours of listless exposition and directionless subplotting in between the all-too-occasional murder scenes. It was too vapid to take seriously, but too self-righteous to be a guilty pleasure.
Whereas the first season attempted, unsuccessfully, to be a meditative exploration of outsiders in a small town, the second season is a more traditional supernatural mystery, pushing the series toward the True Blood clone suggested by its marketing. It no longer suffers from lethargic pacing, but it’s also been scrubbed free of any residual weirdness. Season two continues the adventures of hero Peter Rumancek (Landon Liboiron), a poor Romani (or “gypsy,” as the series prefers) werewolf, and antihero Roman Godfrey (Bill Skarsgård), an arrogant 18-year-old billionaire who just inherited 50 percent of his father’s biotech empire. But gone is the sexual tension between Roman and his cousin, Letha, who died in childbirth at the end of last season, or, really, anything that was particularly icky about the first season (rape, incestuous subtext, self-mutilation, the sexualization of 14-year-old girls).
Instead, this season feels homogenized, like a calculated effort was made to get it in line with its most obvious cohorts on cable TV. As a result, the major causes of conflict between Peter and Roman are no longer class expectations or the oppressive conformity of Americana, but the much more generic trope of a young woman who gets between the two protagonists. After a car crash, Miranda (Madeline Brewer) ends up at Roman’s swanky ultramodern house looking for help, which comes in the form of Peter when he arrives in a tow truck (as per his latest job). Soon enough, Miranda becomes the Sookie to our heroes’ Bill and Eric, or the Buffy to their Angel and Spike, filling the room with soapy dick-measuring tension while they hunt down a mysterious group of murderers.
The new episodes are mediocre in terms of plot and character development, but they’re also consistently paced, and no longer bogged down by exposition: They smooth out the rough edges, avoid anything too strange, and minimize the slow, pondering moments of faux-profundity. This sort of stylistic reboot is a blessing and a curse, as it makes the series easier to watch on an episode-to-episode basis, but it also fails to compel you to continue. The first season didn’t have much originality to offer, but stealing ideas from Twin Peaks is way more interesting than creating another formulation of Joss Whedon’s teenagers-fight-monsters template.