Hemlock Grove: Read It or Watch It?

Hemlock Grove posterWhen I first saw posters for Hemlock Grove plastered on the walls of the New York City subway, I knew it was a series I couldn’t resist. Based on the book by Brian McGreevy, Hemlock Grove follows Peter Rumancek, a Gypsy boy and potential werewolf, and Roman Godfrey, heir of the local wealthy family, on their mission to solve and stop the series of grisly murders haunting their small Pennsylvania town.

The 13-episode series is Netflix’s attempt to rival HBO with similar content on demand, featuring a cast of familiar faces—including Bill Skarsgard, brother to True Blood’s Alexander—an excellent score, and direction from Eli Roth, of horror fame.

Bill Skarsgard in Hemlock Grove

I devoured Hemlock Grove in little over week, and while the characters are compelling (especially Roman), I think this series initially bit off more than it could chew. The first episode establishes a lot of mysteries up front: is Peter a werewolf, what is Olivia, what is Roman’s sister, what’s going on, why does Olivia keep putting stuff in her eye, what’s an upir? While I love not being spoon-fed all the information, a little solid ground can go a long way, and I wish the series provided answers for all my questions.

The plot is rather slow to unfold and the characters sometimes come off as too one-dimensional, with a predictable repetition of Peter and Roman sitting in Roman’s car talking about what they’re going to do, or Olivia doting on her son, or Letha being really nice because her existence is based on her being really nice. One of my regrets is that Olivia Godfrey, played by Famke Janssen, doesn’t come across as evil as she ends up being in the last few episodes.

If there’s one thing worth muddling through the down-swings in the plotline, it’s the werewolves and special effects. The gore is masterfully done, and the first werewolf transformation is breathtaking, a throwback to classic shifts as seen in The Company of Wolves. And once the action picks up, it really picks up.

Hemlock Grove’s saving grace is the instant availability of all 13 episodes. If it had aired like a standard syndicated series, I don’t know that I would have been patient enough to stick it out. If you’re looking for something entertaining, but not too deep, it’s worth the binge watching.

Brian McGreevy Hemlock GroveIf you think this is your kind of show, but are hesitant to pick it up, I’d recommend reading the book first. Having read it after seeing the show through, I was delighted that McGreevey’s text shone more light on the mysteries of Hemlock Grove, filling in a couple of blanks left unanswered by the series. It’s also almost word-for-word the script used in the production. The storyline reads much cleaner, and though I wish some of things built up in the series were also established in the book, reading Hemlock Grove made what the series tried to convey more concrete. After I finished it, I rewatched the series and picked up on a lot more than I’d noticed initially.

The possibility of a season two, of course, rests in the hands of the viewers. Though I look forward to seeing this story progress, I wonder where the directors will take it if a second season is approved. The book and series end more or less in the same place, with a startling difference in concluding events, which makes me wonder what storyline a second season would follow. McGreevy announced at 92YTribeca in 2012 that he was working on a second and third book, so maybe my questions will be answered soon than I think.

Meghan Harker grew up in a small, awkwardly-named town in Georgia. She attended Brenau University, where she earned her BA in English and a minor in Graphic Design; she also attended the University of Cambridge, England, where she didn't quite master the perfect Oxbridge accent. She's an avid reader, writer, and fire spinner. She's currently working her first novel, a paranormal thriller. Visit her blog at ExquisitelyOdd.com.

Read all posts by Meghan Harker for Criminal Element.



  1. Clare 2e

    I have to say, when we finally got to see Peter’s transformation, I was wowed. That scene, as you noted, was just great monstercraft!

  2. Actual Laura Benedict

    I’m watching the series now, and definitely concur with your read of the early episodes, Meghan. Saw episode 10 last night and saw some important action–but I felt like it was 2 episodes too late. I definitely would’ve given up long ago if I’d been watching weekly. The storytelling is so convoluted. Will definitely check out the book.

  3. Melanie Stabler

    I have seen the TV series over a half dozen times. I decided to read the book, and I find the book is dull. It does not go into the details the show does. I had no trouble figuring out why MRS godfrey put stuff in her eye… I find the book to be less eventful and wording doesnt capture the intensity of most scenes. Yet I am still reading it because i love this story. Not one to get into scifi , yet Netflix did such an amazing job on the gore (which i genuinely dont usually care for) show is by far better than this book.

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