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.

 

Posted by Michael Pool

Michael Pool is Crime Syndicate Magazine's Editor-in-Chief, as well as a crime fiction author of three books:Texas Two-Step, Debt Crusher, and New Alleys For Nothing Men. His next novel, Rose City, will be published by Down and Out Books in April 2019. Find him online at www.michaelpool.net.

2 Comments

  1. In recent days and weeks I have seen a lot of speculation that now with the take over by AT&T (which may get reversed if the Justice Department wins their appeal) that this sort of thing will decline on HBO. Instead, they will go the NETFLIX way of doing things and value quantity over quality.

    I have throughly enjoyed this deal. I have not read the book. But, I knew people like this growing up. My grandmother on my Dad’s side was a lot like Adora. My grandmother loved us in her ownn way, but what her neighbors might think about anything always came first and appearances ruled all. Which was why, one example, when my Mom fell on the front sidewalk of my junior high (middle school these days) and shattered her left arm, Grandma took the time time to do her wig and her makeup and other super essential things thus it took her three hours to arrive on a scene that was ten minutes from her house. She was far more concerned about how disheveled I was at the end of a school day and shocked that I did not have better clothes (they were fine) than what mattered.

    I also knew a girl back in high school who cut herself though at 17-18 I had no idea what was going on. I also doubt I had any idea just how much she was doing it.

    1. It’s very southern to care about what the neighbors say and think and to be all in everyone’s business while pretending to be above such notions. Back in East Texas, we called it “Keeping up with the Joneses” (I’m sure that’s not a regional colloquialism). I grew up in Tyler, a town aptly named the rose capital of the world, given that everything is surface-level pretty and thorny as hell just below the sightline.

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