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Hemlock Grove is both comic-book colourful and comic-book silly. (Netflix/Everett Collection)
Hemlock Grove is both comic-book colourful and comic-book silly. (Netflix/Everett Collection)

JOHN DOYLE

Werewolf sex and handsome man-boy vampires: Netflix's Hemlock Grove is deeply disappointing Add to ...

There is a formidable amount of nonsense talked about television. Oh yes, there is.

And I’m not just talking about the recent CRTC hearing on the matter of “mandatory carriage,” whereby certain channels are, as they say, shoved down your throat. Chap in charge of Sun News told the wise owls of the CRTC that the “must offer” option, wherein cable services are obliged to offer Sun News but not automatically include it in cable packages, would be a “death sentence” for the channel. Death, no less. Not “resting” or “pining for the fjords” like the parrot in Monty Python’s famous Dead Parrot sketch, but dead, as in “expired and gone to meet his maker!” And “bereft of life.”

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If that doesn’t move the wise owls of the CRTC to action, I don’t know what will. They’ve been moved to action by a good deal of nonsense over the years.

I’m talking, too, about Netflix and the continuing evolution of the delivery of TV shows to you, the eager viewer. If you’re to believe a lot of online nattering by people whose main topic of conversation is declaring their cunning ruses to pay as little as possible for entertainment, Netflix is the business. Cable, and old-fashioned TV viewing of any kind, is for suckers.

Well, yes and no. Netflix is generating a lot of attention this year thanks to its continuing roll-out of original material. First came House of Cards, which was entertaining but ultimately lacked the necessary gravitas to be truly glorious TV. Soon Netflix will debut its revival of Arrested Development, a noble enterprise. But a rather obvious enterprise, too, for an outfit with a lot of money to spend.

Hemlock Grove is Netflix’s latest original series and, frankly, it’s deeply, profoundly disappointing. It’s the work of young horror maestro Eli Roth (the movies Hostel and Cabin Fever) and there’s a touch of Twin Peaks about it, but only in the sense that it’s set in a small, weird town and it kicks off with the gruesome murder of a teenage girl.

What unfolds is all mood and special effects with lazy plotting and very little that amounts to more than teen angst. It’s comic-book colourful and comic-book silly. Possibly I’m the wrong age for this sort of entertainment. Still, for any age group, adolescent fantasies about werewolf sex and handsome man-boy vampires need to be a lot more gripping than this to warrant the viewing of all the episodes.

I have no problem with watching Famke Janssen quietly eat the scenery, which she does as Olivia Godfrey, the town’s most formidable mama. But the kids – Roman (Bill Skarsgard), the vampire with boy-band good looks, and Shelley (Nicole Boivin), a teenage mute giant – are figures more interesting as conceits than characters. The plot is unfathomable and driven by attempts at salacious twists that are, to anyone older than 15, just plain silly. There are gypsies and goofballs, yet who knows what the heck is going on here? I don’t, nor do I care. It’s a Netflix failure.

Meanwhile, what Netflix is doing well is delivering great TV made by and for network and cable channels. It’s where you can find Rectify, the truly wonderful and genuinely powerful drama that has begun airing on the Sundance Channel in the U.S. The Canadian Sundance channel won’t air it until next year or thereabouts, but you can see it on Netflix in Canada right now.

It’s about a man, Daniel Holden (Aden Young), faced with the psychologically stunning act of being released from prison after 19 years, most of them spent in solitary confinement. His conviction for the rape and murder of a young woman has been undermined by new DNA evidence but, as far as his hometown and the local authorities are concerned, the case is far from closed. A contemporary Southern Gothic drama of Faulknerian sweep, Rectify is gorgeously made and disturbing.

But those who trumpet Netflix as a saviour should note that Rectify is TV drama and Netflix is merely the platform delivering it.

While Netflix is a fabulous tool, it does not free consumers from dissatisfaction. As several U.S. commentators have noted in postmortem pieces about House of Cards, there was zero chatter about the show after its initial blaze of publicity. The characters are not discussed, good lines of dialogue are not analyzed and savoured. It came and it went, leaving no trace behind. As Mary McNamara put it in the Los Angeles Times, Netflix’s unveiling of House of Cards was treated as a “new media triumph.” It looks like that kind of talk was just more formidable nonsense.

Airing tonight

Jew Bashing: The New Anti-Semitism (Vision, 9 p.m.) is the beginning of a multipart series on Vision called Extremism Exposed, about hatred and intolerance. In Martin Himel’s documentary, what’s called “a new wave of anti-Semitic hatred” is the focus. It opens tonight with a look at the Middle East and the articulation of anti-Semitism by everyone from politicians to top newspaper columnists. Later programs (it airs on consecutive Mondays) examine the bizarre resurgence of anti-Semitism in the United States and Canada and the blithe acceptance of it.

All times ET. Check local listings.

 

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