Sharp Relief

Demons from the past live in the present, and are sticking around into the foreseeable future. The premiere of HBO’s Sharp Objects is as haunting as it is compelling. It is at once a crime mystery, a story of small town defensiveness, and a big-fish-in-a-small-town family living with the metaphorical and literal scars of its actions.

Sharp Objects (HBO Sundays at 9ET) will define quality television this summer. And come EMMY/Golden Globes/SAG time, Amy Adams and Patricia Clarkson will be picking out gowns and jotting down notes for acceptance speeches.

“Could be a damn good story if you do it right.” -Camille’s Editor

The first episode finds Adams’ character, Camille, a reporter for a Saint Louis paper, in her editor’s office, being sent to turn a report on a developing story involving a serial killer in the small town of Wind Gap. Camille just happens to be from there.  Her editor hopes her connections will open closed doors and work sources. She hopes to avoid the story, even professing not to have heard anything about the first murder and new disappearance.

She says it’s a small town of 2,000 whose main industry is hog slaughter, with two kinds of people: trash and old money. Camille is “trash.. from old money.”

Much of the story is told in flashback, using quick cuts to give us pieces to the complicated puzzle that is Camille.  We see her as a teenager being chased by boys. We see her rushing her sister’s casket.

In the present we see she is an alcoholic.  Yes, we are a cocktail-based review site, but Camille would put us to shame. The assortment of mini bottles makes you think the first class cart fell over right into her carry on. She alternates from trying to hide her issue by pouring Absolut into a water bottle to just straight up chugging. She is not a high functioning alcoholic. Just “functioning” would be the kindest term to use.

And there are the scars. The episode is titled Vanish. For most of it we believe it’s referencing the girls that are abducted. It is not until the final shot that we are clued in. So we get glimpses of the past and the residual physical and emotional scars. We presume the next few weeks will be spent connecting them.

Big Little Connections

After the über-successful limited series Big Little Lies it’s easy to draw parallels to Sharp Objects.  It’s Executive Produced and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who also directed Lies. Objects also sports an A-List cast with talented, accomplished actresses embodying strong female characters.  The tone is similar, and both string us along with a mystery that seems ready to be grasped at any moment but remains elusive throughout.

But where Lies was set in a seemingly idyllic coastal California town, Objects is set in as middle of America as middle America gets.  There are no top-tier public schools to send your kids to or trendy, waterfront coffee houses to have a klatch with your peeps. In fact, people in Wind Gap wouldn’t say ‘peeps’ outside of Easter season.

Object of Our Affection

Often we lament that shows like this aren’t on Netflix so we could binge watch it all at once, but not this time.  The show is compelling but emotionally draining, and we have a feeling that will only be more of the case as the season goes on.  This is not a bingeable show. An hour, maybe two, is all we could do in one sitting.

But it’s giving us three things to watch. Camille’s relationship with her family, which includes a less-than-encouraging mother who shows us where Camille got her penchant for day drinking. And there’s a half-sister, Amma, who is a rebel like Camille, but with a Stepford Wife facade.

There is the mystery of who is abducting and murdering young girls in a small town. We don’t have a favorite suspect yet, but would wager that the character has already been introduced.

Finally there is the mystery of Camille herself. What happened to scar her inside and out? And does the incessant drinking serve to quiet the voices in her head.. or amplify them?

The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation

Titos. Straight up. From a mini bottle. Camille seems to be partial to those. Or else it’s just what was most abundantly available.  If you’re not flying anytime soon don’t worry. You can buy them by the cash register at most fine liquor stores!

Cheers!

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