Here’s a formula for a TV hit: Set in the hot summer schedule, a murder-mystery miniseries rife with water cooler discussion. Split the budget between acting, a cinematic auteur director, ace cinematography, a moody minor string orchestral score and place the rest into licensed music budget into licensing that will have people Shazaming afterwards. Have abstract opening credits, and have the murder in question sprawled out in the most creatively gruesome way possible because no better image sticks than the primality of death. You’ll get away with fetishized violence because the damaged characters involved will be very sullen and serious. They will be so “broken” and emotionally stunted it will allow a free range audience to choose whether to be appropriately enthralled or disgusted, based on however they identify with the material. Some might even become obsessed write think pieces. Trust me it will be great.
It frankly surprises me, the lack of must see summer television in recent years following such hits as Breaking Bad‘s fifth season, the surprise breakout of Mr. Robot, the takeoff of True Detective’s shaky second season, and The Night Of. Network TV Execs whats it gonna take? There’s still maybe if we’re lucky one murder mystery miniseries every summer with little else to watch but repeats. Are the bigwigs so stupidly out of touch that they still think we go to the beach, camp, and to the movies without seeing their best shows. Even still we’re not all rich and social, many of us stay in, it is why the Olympics and American Ninja Warrior are still popular, but in today’s instant world it’s not enough. Enter Sharp Objects.
Based on Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn’s first novel, this eight episode miniseries is about a murder in a small town and brought on-screen by a number of talented hands; Creator Marti Noxon (UnREAL), Director Jean-Marc Valee (Big Little Lies), Producer Jason Blum (Get Out), and Actress Amy Adams (Arrival) who based on recent publication has seemingly inherited DiCaprio’s Oscar campaign. Amy Adams is a good choice (I remain curious what a motivated/ unhinged Reese Witherspoon would’ve done with the material) as an alcoholic reporter who returns to the fictional sleepy hometown of Windgap, Missouri to investigate a possible (likely) string of murders. Self-labelled “Trash from Old Money” and loaded with noir-ish tropes this genre is well tread especially with the lead character’s tortured back story, but done well it is easy to appreciate all the craft that goes into it. The subtlety of the performances, some striking imagery; one a match cut of adult Camille Preaker submerging into a bathtub and emerging in the murky waters of her childhood (then portrayed by It‘s Sophia Lillis) connecting her past trauma to current self-harm is evocative. Valee so seamlessly makes these connections the mood becomes oddly ethereal like the best pulp noir. The images gathered bring in so many questions I wouldn’t rule out Camille’s half-sister Amma being outed as a ghost since she never directly occupies the same conversation and space as Camille or their overbearing matriarch Adora (Patricia Clarkson). If Amma were a ghost and was revealed to be tragically dead in another time and space it would be a trope par for the cable course but is a tricky move to effectively execute and sustain multiple episodes. The crew does seem up to the task as Adams pulled off a similar confusing duality in her previous novel adaptation Nocturnal Animals (splitting her Oscar vote with Arrival). Moreover Noxon’s interest in the duality of public and private expectations were also dealt with in UnREAL, Blum’s input from Get Out, and Flynn’s skill in exploring dual POV’s was a key element of Gone Girl.
In talking up the themes of the story, Flynn mentioned this story is a tale about the abuse of women; women to themselves and to each other. Sharp Objects is brilliantly defined by its disinterest in the male point of view ironically carried out by a man. Valee like his fellow French-Canadian cohort Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Arrival) is a feminist-filmmaker and his collaboration with Flynn here reflects her great match for Fincher whose previous trick in adapting Gone Girl was based around the idea that men cannot hope to imagine themselves off-centre narrative as simple pawns in someone else’s game. Here the adaptation of her material is most visible in the search party scene (pictures below) showing demonstrating how men are most-likely going to going to be pushed to the margins. The most they can perhaps hope for is to be a tool, one of the Sharp Objects that women use to hurt themselves. Objects is a necessarily a women’s story, one I’m really interested in seeing unfold, and that’s awesome! Best of all for potential male viewers is the story is not sold on gimmickry or filled with annoying or glaring insecurities. This is confident, competent storytelling. The kind, despite its gruesome material I’m happy to watch unfold.
Ep. 01 – “Vanish” Rating: a very-solid “A”
- Considering Flynn’s discussion of the themes, there’s no way the killer will not be a woman: I’m calling it
- Place bets on when the only recognizably attractive male in the narrative and Amy Adams do it: I say episode 3 or 5
- Place bets on when Adams’ character Preaker has her mental relapse I say Ep. 6
- Chief Water cooler discussion moment in Ep. 4 midpoint
- Credits End Credits Song is “Tumbling Lights” by The Acid and I already have it on my year-end playlist