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Jessica Biel Can’t Help Hulu’s Confusing True Crime Series

The thing: Candy Montgomery’s story is almost too gruesome and terrifying to be true: On Friday, June 13, 1980, a nice and sweet suburban housewife in a bucolic northeast Texas town came to her friend and neighbor Betty Gore. , and killed her with an axe.

She cut it 41 times, 40 of them while her heart was still beating. So she showered at Betty’s house to clean the blood and returned home to continue her day as if nothing had happened… with Betty’s newborn baby crying at her dead mother’s house for thirteen hours before the body was taken. found.

Even crazier than that? Candy would eventually be found innocent.

Naturally, it’s the kind of dismal true-crime story that would spawn not one, but two miniseries in our happy-murder pop culture scene: another is slated to debut later this year on HBO Max with Elizabeth Olsen.

But Hulu Sweetstarring Jessica Biel in the title role (replacing Elisabeth Moss, who dropped out), reached the finish line first, a five-night limited series event that seeks to emulate the old-fashioned TV miniseries model of airing a new episode each day. of the week of its release before culminating, you guessed it, Friday the 13th.

And indeed, this throwback model can be SweetThe show’s most innovative approach, which is bad news for the show’s sense of novelty. Unfortunately, while creators Nick Antosca (The act) and Robin Veith (Mad men, the extension) and his creative team have a (literally) killer cast and plenty of atmosphere to work with, there might not be much nutrition behind the sick and sweet melodrama of Sweetevents ripped from the headlines.

Candy (Hulu)

Candy (Hulu)

I want sweets: In leaps and bounds, Sweet hopes to be a character study of both the titular assassin and his prey. Biel, getting dressed Monster-Styled in an 80s beaded wig and big round glasses, she plays Candy as a woman finally fed up with the repetitive monotony of home.

Her husband, Pat (Veep‘s Timothy Simons) is a bland, well-meaning jerk who is as cool as he is deeply annoying, and a lost story of a church member recounting their post-breakup flirtation ignites a fire under her to start an affair of her own. . To her credit, Biel does a lot with such a mercurial character, never hinting too closely at the extent of Candy’s premeditation on that fateful June morning.

The same goes for Melanie Lynskey, who channels much of that pent-up anger she used so well in yellow jackets earlier this year; frowning under a cropped wig and desperately swimming in mumus, Betty’s pre-murder flashbacks are a lot like Candy’s own misery. Where Candy finds purpose and life in her delusions, Lynskey’s Betty is defeated by age, the stress of work and motherhood, and the relative disinterest of dim-witted Allan (Pablo Schreiber, bringing back the old pornstache once again).

Together and apart, both actresses take a bite out of the monotonous tedium of their characters’ lives, bolstered by Michael Uppendahl’s frankly Soderberghian direction – all distant shots, dimly lit tacky houses drenched in depressing browns and beiges.

The show is at its most cohesive, however, as it explores the hell of the heteronormativity of the nuclear family that drives Betty to misery and Candy to murder: they are Betty Drapers without the glamour, women of substance and intelligence hopelessly trapped in the meandering lives of their church. and the community told them to have it.

Also, their husbands are either too boring and complacent (Pat) or too useless to give them purpose; witness a newly widowed Allan squirting detergent into the dishwasher, or admitting he doesn’t know how to change a diaper, but assuming that as “an engineer” he should be able to move. Sweetit’s most interesting (albeit less insightful) when it uses the real-crime environment to condemn the social circumstances that led to the final fate of these two women.

Candy (Hulu)

Candy (Hulu)

One day at a time: But like so many of these limited series, especially lately, Sweet suffers from some profound tonal and rhythm problems. Episode 1 comes out the most unscathed, a well-structured hour that shows us the before and after of Candy’s actions on June 13, the calm followed by thinly disguised panic, before finally returning to indicate that something has gone terribly wrong.

But the second and third hours, which largely exist in flashbacks to show the adulterous circumstances behind the alleged murder, exaggerate to the show’s detriment. Try as they might, the circumstances of Candy and Betty’s lives aren’t complicated enough to fill two full hours of hesitation over the ethics of infidelity and scene after scene of the isolating oppression of the suburban wife (neither of which breaks the mold of these types of relationships). stories).

The actors are doing a good job, and the nerve-racking Ariel Marx score goes a long way in establishing the boredom hell the two women exist in. But this can only take you so far if the moment-to-moment work is not so interesting.

The same goes for the last two hours, which ultimately goes for the slow investigation (with some admittedly cute cameos that we won’t spoil here) and the bizarre trial proceedings that followed, in which Candy argued that she killed Betty in self-defense. after the latter discovered the case of the former.

The final hour gives us some elegant flourishes to shake up the legal drama proceedings we’ve seen a million times before: Raul Esparza returns to court afterSVU (Veith was also a producer on that show) to defend Candy’s case, a role only slightly modified by his large, bushy mustache and the strong implication that he is more involved in Candy’s personal life than he would like to admit in court.

And Lynskey returns to the screen in an unexpected way, a witness to her own murder trial, her face contorted in disbelief as the justice she (and the audience) expect begins to take wicked new turns.

The verdict: There’s a distinct voice and sense of style to Sweetsure, and Biel is playing the role as if his career depended on it (a valiant attempt to escape the shackles of a handsome movie star to prove she has a knack for handling meatier characters).

Problem is, because of how mysterious the real woman and her motivations are, Biel is stuck playing too many conflicting notes: jealous housewife, traumatized child, Ryan Murphy-level camp queen. And really, it’s this disconnect between the underpowered horror film and the John Waters-y trappings of the story that keeps Sweet to feel consistent or as complete as that.

Where are you playing? Sweet unwrap one piece at a time each weekday from Monday, May 9 to Friday, May 13 on Hulu.

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