HBO has long had a reputation as an innovator and driving force behind great crime television. The network helped usher in a crime television renaissance with the success of its flagship series, The Sopranos, and later found its stride on the backs of shows like Oz, The Wire, and True Detective.
HBO just seems to get it when it comes to police procedurals and noir storylines. They’re not afraid to play with format, such as the anthology-style format of True Detective.
And their newest crime drama, Sharp Objects, fits nicely into HBO’s lineage and reputation for pushing the boundaries with new formats. As a miniseries (HBO calls it a “limited series”), the show won’t have the longterm success of shows like The Sopranos. Nor will it have a second season to muck up the way True Detective did.
But what the format lacks in staying power, it more than makes up for with viewing pleasure. It feels like watching a novel on screen, with all of the same pacing and perspective. It also creates a blueprint that many more stand-alone crime novels might follow to success on the small screen in the future.
Given Hollywood’s current obsession with superhero films, that’s no small thing. Great crime books need a new venue for adaptation. The miniseries format offers the perfect pacing and presentation for adapting novels like Sharp Objects.
Delivered as an eight-part miniseries, Sharp Objects follows the family saga of up-and-coming journalist Camille Preaker (Amy Adams). When Preaker’s editor assigns her to cover a murder in her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, old wounds are soon reopened.
Wind Gap has plenty of dark secrets, and a dark historical lineage of its own to fit those secrets into.
Adapted from the acclaimed novel by Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn, Sharp Objects captures the book’s atmospheric qualities and gothic sensibilities without sacrificing the story’s integrity at the altar of a multi-season format.
Southern gothic traditions and tropes
Flynn’s novel turns several Southern gothic tropes on their head. It refocuses the “old, fierce pull of blood” trope onto the grief-stricken tale of a damaged mother and her deranged, estranged daughter. It’s brilliant writing, and the show’s execution matches that brilliance on screen.
Sharp Objects has all the great production value viewers have come to expect from HBO-produced dramas, with a grip of excellent performances to drive it home. Eliza Scanlen turns in a masterful performance as Camille’s two-faced half-sister Amma Crellin, and Patricia Clarkson is the quintessential overbearing southern matriarch as Camille’s mother, Adora Crellin.
Sharp Objects centers around women and their place, wanted or unwanted, in traditional southern societies. It deals with the power of reputation and the damage done by gossip. It also explores the ways that victims carry their scars, seen and unseen, throughout the rest of their lives.
Wind Gap is filled with hog farms and little Lolitas on rollerskates. It’s a place where the slaughter of one and innocence of the other often cross paths. Occasionally, they switch positions altogether.
With any luck, HBO will produce many more miniseries adaptations like this one. In the meantime, viewers can still enjoy Sharp Objects on Sunday nights at 9 pm Eastern. For everyone else, a wonderfully dark streaming binge awaits.