Hulu’s True Crime Drama Is Bittersweet at Best

There’s no doubt that the film and television market is flooded with true crime stories right now, whether they’re documentaries or scripted adaptations of real-life tales. This year has seen a number already, and just this month will see the release of Under the Banner of Heaven, The Staircaseand Candyone of two series adapting the story of Candy Montgomery, a Texas housewife who took an ax to her neighbor’s head, Lizzie Borden style, in 1980.

The premise for Candy is undoubtedly interesting: a perfectly normal, well-loved housewife snaps on Friday the 13th, brutally murdering her quiet and unassuming friend Betty Gore after having an affair with her husband, Alan. The case shocks an entire town — if not the entire country — causing neighbors and friends to question each other’s intentions, and just who they can trust in the long run.


starring Jessica Biel and Melanie Lynskey as Candy and the tragic Betty Gore respectively, Hulu’s adaptation of the tale sets itself up for tense, mounting drama, airing its first episode on May 9, and continuously dropping an episode a day for five days until it reaches its conclusion. From the get-go, it hones in on the idyllic nature of Candy Montgomery’s life de ella, as an attentive and on-the-go mother who has no qualms digging into others’ personal lives, or even taking them entirely, if they anger her enough—wait, what?

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If that sentence confused you, then that’s probably about how you’ll feel watching Candy as it unfolds. The show wants to be many things and is as indecisive as a small child with undiagnosed ADHD in a candy store. There’s a certain amount of discomfort that always comes with “based on true events” crime stories, but here especially so, with showrunner Robin Veith turning the town of Wylie, Texas into a fishbowl for the audience to look into, a time machine back to 1980, when The Empire Strikes Back was in theaters and giant, wire-frame glasses were the pinnacle of style.

The series oscillates between gauzy idealism and painful awkwardness, never quite sure where it wants to land. Does it want to defend Candy Montgomery as a woman who merely had a psychotic break, released after years of trauma and marital tension, or does it want to condemn her de ella? She feels guilt and pleasure in ironically equal amounts, and the show finds itself muddled in much the same way that many of Hulu’s previous original projects have — their film False Positive eat to mind

As a result, many of the characters are reduced down to pieces on a game board, mere shallow reflections of living, breathing people. The most striking is the infantilization of Betty Gore, a loving mother whose only storyline seems to focus on her lack of an adult understanding of sex, despite already having a daughter. She sits in stark contrast to Candy, who seems pulled from the pages of a 1980s teen drama: the most popular girl in school (or rather, her small Texas community de ella), just catty enough for you not to trust her as much as everyone else seems to.

To set the two women up as such obvious tropes, parallel though they might be, is an odd and unsettling one. It’s always tough to bring real people — particularly those who’ve been victimized — to life, but to watch Lynskey be mostly sidelined after a Critics Choice Award-winning performance in yellowjackets is a disappointment. Not to mention the fact that the series commits the cardinal sin of true crime adaptations: focusing too much on its killer and not enough on its victims, distorting the audience’s perception of just who’s really in the right.

To the show’s credit, however, its performers make a valiant effort to give life to their flat, paper doll characters. Biel is well-suited for tense drama — as we all discovered during her run on The Sinner, before it became an anthology series — and her moments of true reflection and grief, few though they are, stand out through the filmy lens the entire series is bathed in. Lynskey, though sadly wasted, is enveloped so fully in Betty Gore’s grief that you wonder why no one else ever noticed, and Timothy Simons brings a stand-out performance to the show’s last few episodes as Pat Montgomery, when sudden revelations turn a sweet and dedicated husband into something much darker and more painful.

But it’s paul schreiber that really shines as the unfaithful but still grieving Alan Gore, husband to Lynskey’s slain Betty Gore and the man who engaged in the affair with Candy Montgomery that allegedly led to his wife’s death. He seems uncomfortable in his own skin no matter what he’s doing, an emotion that motivates his entire existence of him within the series, whether it pushes him to engage in an affair because he cannot properly process his wife’s strong emotions of her, or exacerbates his her grief after her death. Schreiber’s performance is intense in a way no one else’s seems to be — save perhaps for Raul Esparza‘s Don Crowder, though his slightly crooked lawyer leans more into camp than drama — and it motivates the entire series, making me almost wish that things had been told from his perspective.

If anything, the performances are a saving grace for Candywhich will most likely find itself within the hallowed halls of true crime adaptations’ past, living amongst serialized procedures and Netflix documentaries as the kind of thing my grandparents will watch on a Sunday afternoon just because they’ve seen NCIS one too many times. It lands firmly in the camp of good, but not great, and for someone who enjoys mystery novels, this series is probably a good weekend binge, a one and done to be watched while cleaning or with friends, so Hulu’s continuous release schedule makes sense in a way. Ultimately, Candy pales in comparison to Biel’s performance in The Sinner — but then again, maybe that’s just the oversaturation of true-crime stories talking.

Rating: C+

Candy premieres on Hulu on May 9, with four consecutive episodes airing every night until May 13.


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