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TV TATTLE

Hulu's Candy is too cut and dry, with little insight into why it's now telling the Candy Montgomery-Betty Gore story

  • "Candy is so cut-and-dry in its linear movement from affair to murder to court that it denies viewers the context and texture needed to make this world feel established and lived-in," says Roxana Hadadi of the Hulu limited series starring Jessica Biel and Melanie Lynskey from creators Robin Veith and Nick Antosca. "Placing us alongside Candy for the killing might be the series’ attempt to invite viewers behind a literal closed door, but the blood-drenched sequence is so staggeringly grotesque that it’s more repellant than immersive." Hadadi adds: "There’s no narrative twistiness here and no real obfuscation in terms of who is guilty. That isn’t to say that manufactured mystery is required for true crime, but what Candy lacks is a sense of why this story and why now. What does this incident tell us about the criminal-justice system and how it treats criminals of a certain race, gender, and social class? About the closed-ranks nature of the American South? About being a woman in America, aside from the fact that men can be trash and children can be a nuisance? That latter question is alluded to a bit in the series’ presentation of Candy’s and Betty’s domestic lives, but any sort of insight about the challenges of womanhood then versus now is absent."

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    • Candy is an overstuffed mess: "The axe murder of Betty Gore isn’t the only attack on women in Hulu’s Candy, a screamingly sexist limited series even the most fervent true-crime fans can safely skip," says Alison Foreman. "Created by Nick Antosca (The Act) and Robin Veith (Mad Men), this five-part docudrama takes on the infamous case of Candy Montgomery, a Texas housewife who hacked up her supposed best friend amid a love triangle in the summer of 1980. With former The Sinner star Jessica Biel playing Montgomery and Yellowjackets’ Melanie Lynskey as Gore, Candy has the cast, time period, and setting needed to thoughtfully consider how patriarchal pressures sometimes spur suburban women to violence. But instead, this overstretched mess delivers half a day’s worth of slut-shaming that does little more than masquerade as being about—or for—anyone with a vagina."
    • Candy should've been called "Candy and Betty": "In the first few episodes, the scripts are patient in explaining how both women are equally, achingly lonely, and yet go about trying to fix that feeling in entirely different ways. While contrasting Betty and Candy’s lives, Candy has a clear focus in establishing the Venn diagram between them. Giving both women dimension is the best thing the series ever does, which also raises the question of why the show is called Candy rather than Candy and Betty. Biel and Lynskey are, in fact, both giving lead performances, and the title should reflect it. Once it catches back up with the murder, however, Candy starts to show its seams."
    • Candy works by living in the psychological margins while trying to make sense of a senseless death: "Given an event this harrowing, it’s almost impossible not to have some part of this project feel disjointed," says Steve Greene. "There’s a destabilizing sense to the frequent time-hopping that Candy largely uses for its own benefit. In the process, what it asks about human nature and what a person is capable of is a journey that doesn’t happen without some jarring discoveries. That said, Candy does seem to work better when it’s locked into the mental state of each person it’s profiling. When Candy tries to make some of those visions and manifestations more literal, it removes some of the slippery, elusive nature of the show that makes it great."
    • Candy tries but eventually gives up to trying say something profound: "The better of the recent true-crime series, like Under the Banner of Heaven or The Girl from Plainville, have come armed with some larger purpose beyond simply recounting the juicy details — to examine religious fundamentalism in the former, or to humanize its central players in the latter," says Angie Han. "Initially, Candy appears to want to use its story to say something about conformity, maybe, or idealized femininity and domestic labor. But by the fifth episode, which revolves around Candy’s trial, the series seems to have forgotten what message it meant to deliver, in favor of sitting back to gawk at the circus."
    • Jessica Biel shines in an old-fashioned true-crime treat: "The performances, starting with Biel and Lynskey, are sharp and convincing," says Brian Lowry, "and the unexpected turns down the stretch make this one of those fact-based productions where the less you know going in, the better...Candy doesn’t break new ground, but nor does it really need to. Yes, it has plenty of company in this particular genre, but thanks to the principals, it’s a tastier treat than most."
    • Biel proves her performance in The Sinner was no fluke: "She has really turned a corner in terms of performance in the last few years, doing her career-best work on the excellent The Sinner, and proving here that that was no fluke," says Brian Tallerico. "She imbues Candy with a jittery energy that makes it seem like this woman's perfect house of cards had to collapse at some point. The way Candy treats her affair like something else on her housewife to-do list is fascinating. Get the groceries, pick up the kids, have sex with a friend’s husband. She’s even better in the scenes after the murder; she makes her breath shallower, repeats phrases, nods her head in an unnatural way—she’s got the air of a woman who knows the days before she gets caught are getting shorter. It’s a fantastic performance. Candy is worth seeing for its quartet of performers alone."
    • Despite the outstanding performances, Candy, like its titular character, has commitment issues: "The limited series spends most of its time flirting with the possibility that Candy Montgomery was a narcissistic psychopath and Betty Gore was wholly unstable, never fully convincing us of either," says Karama Horne. "Unfortunately, the series’ conclusion is as unsatisfying as the case’s real-life verdict."
    • Candy is a confused, gauzy adaptation of a real-life tragedy: "The series oscillates between gauzy idealism and painful awkwardness, never quite sure where it wants to land," says Maggie Boccella. "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? 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 comes 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."
    • Jessica Biel and Melanie Lynskey perfectly embody Candy Montgomery and Betty Gore: "Biel, who also serves as an executive producer on the series, disappears behind Candy’s accent, permed hairstyle and oversized glasses. With Candy’s flashes of panic, we get glimpses of how deep in denial she is about what she has done," says Amy Amatangelo, adding: "On the other side, no one does an insecure woman who feels she is being overlooked and ignored better than Lynskey. She exudes a woman simmering with rage right beneath the surface. Lynskey’s plaintive expressions speak volumes even when she doesn’t utter a word, which leads to a very powerful scene in the finale."
    • Biel is the perfect choice to play charismatic, dizzying and feral Candy: "She leads with smooth smiles and undercuts them with dissociative middle-distance stares; her over-busy housewife character is doting and domestic but also athletic and fierce," says Laura Bradley. "The rest of the cast packs a similar punch. Lynskey, who’s been having a moment since Yellowjackets exploded, oscillates between empathetic, pitiable, and frustrating as Betty; Schreiber’s Allan seems to both love and resent his wife, and Orange Is the New Black’s resident Porn ’Stache is delightfully adept at playing the bereft widower."
    • Candy's structure is its biggest fault: "The murder and discovery happen all in the first episode, and too quickly, with the audience made to wait until episode five to show what happened that Friday afternoon at Betty’s home," says Sara Clements. "That first episode is suspenseful and gripping, a feeling that dissipates for most of its following episodes. There’s a lengthy gap between the event we’re all here for and the show’s decision to transport the audience back two years earlier. This does make for essential backstory and this isn’t to say that what happens in the years before is uninteresting. In fact, the messy drama that intertwines these two women and the cracks that are revealed in their respective marriages makes for good drama and helps to explain what could have led to this crime. Within this backstory, however, something as significant as Candy’s childhood trauma is explored so briefly that it feels like the writers thought this point unimportant despite perhaps being the key to her actions. It would have been beneficial to have the murder and the discovery of Betty’s body happen more slowly, so the anticipation of that act wouldn’t have been satisfied so early."
    • Jessica Biel and Melanie Lynskey were drawn to the psychological complexities of their characters: "For 90 percent of their lives, they lived these very normal, suburban lives, and then boom, this crazy thing happens," says Biel, noting some of the nuances of getting into the mindset of a killer. "She had to be beloved and likable and nice and kind and someone that you can really get behind, and then after this crazy thing happens, I still want you to weirdly be behind her," she says. Lynskey, on the other hand, felt a connection to Gore. "I just felt like I knew her, and parts of me were parts of her," she says, noting that it was particularly difficult to connect to Gore's depression. "You're living in this feeling and it can sometimes feel slightly repetitive, but that's what depression also feels like."

    TOPICS: Candy, Hulu, Jessica Biel, Melanie Lynskey, Nick Antosca, Pablo Schreiber, Robin Veith


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