In an age with any of several dozen television dramas that you can get drawn into, it can become difficult to find a show that is actually worth watching; whether that’s because it tells an excellent story, features masterful editing and cinematography or top notch acting, not nearly all television shows are created equal. Some feature a few of these traits to varying degrees of success, and end up being worth watching but not truly memorable.
Some of my favorite viewing experiences have come from HBO, such as the incredible first season of True Detective, which still hasn’t been topped as far as I’m concerned – though the third season looks to be on track to compete. But then I found out that Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects was being adapted for television, and by HBO no less. And let me assure you, this is a show that you simply don’t want to miss. Read on for my thoughts and a relatively spoiler-free review.
Sharp Objects tells the story of Camille Preaker, played by a phenomenal Amy Adams, as a journalist returning home to her small southern town following the murder of a young girl. The disappearance of a second young girl hints at something much larger, and soon Camille finds herself hanging around for the story and becoming absorbed in a place she thought she’d left behind. Constant reminders of her past, her family and the reasons that she left in the first place all drive the narrative forward, though at times there was a distinct lack of momentum. While this has drawn criticism from others’ reviews of the show, I feel as though this inertia was intentional – the times where the story felt like it wasn’t going anywhere, as though it was anchored in place by events in the past – were in my opinion meant to communicate how Camille’s character felt drawn back into and trapped by her past.
The story of this first season deals with a lot of very heavy topics – murder, rape, sexual depravity – and how different people handle these topics. As someone who grew up in a small southern town, I can vouch for the fact that this kind of scandal would absolutely engulf a town of people that haven’t looked much further than their own wraparound front porch or verdant treelines.
Camille is a reporter who left her Missouri hamlet to work as a journalist in St. Louis, and is asked to return by her editor who is apparently very familiar with her past and her traumas. Acting as both a father figure and as her editor, he clearly wants a story but also believes that there is catharsis for Camille in returning to her home and revisiting the harsher parts of her past – her family being the largest burden here.
Without spoiling too much of the story, Camille’s history with her family is checkered by loss and tragedy, a spiteful mother and a somewhat aloof father – all of whom exist in the kind of antebellum southern bubble that anyone living in those areas can attest to. Indications of veiled racism, bored teenagers trapped in the cycles of abuse and neglect, and law enforcement that is more concerned with keeping the peace than enforcing the law are all pieces of the very intricate picture painted by the show’s creators and carried out by an excellent cast.
One of the things that interested me the most was how the portrayal of the main character – played by Adams – was handled. While she is someone with very deep-seated issues and remarkable traumas, she manages to function but just barely – and this is something that I grew to love the character for. Poignant flashbacks occur throughout the show as Camille is reminded of the events of her past; seeing a bouquet of roses, or hearing a certain song, for instance, are all tools that give us very brief flashes of her past. These are mostly explored in detail, though they do keep you waiting until close to the end of the season for the payout. I really can’t say enough about the use of these silent flashbacks, with quick glimpses of events from the past played against the harshness of the present reality. What I can say is that this was easily the most masterful part of the cinematography to me; the way that these scenes are played so effortlessly off one another is just something remarkable.
As for the rest of the cast, the locations and the general acting, I didn’t find fault with any particular performance, and it’s clear that both Flynn and the showrunners have done their homework on how a sleepy southern town would carry itself in the wake of such a disturbing tragedy. Outwardly the town is remorseful and heartbroken at such a thing happening to someone so young, but the most important scenes for the show are the ones that take place in the corner of a room over chilled cordials, or in the bedroom of teenage girls sneaking a cigarette and laughing about the whole thing. These intimate portrayals of how people handle tragedy privately are so impressive and realistic that I was simply blown away.
I was a fan of Gillian Flynn’s work before this television show, and HBO has the capacity to do so much with true crime elements that this, for me, is simply a match made in heaven. If you’re a fan of crime dramas, or just television in general, you cannot afford to miss what is in my opinion one of the best seasons of television ever produced.