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Recommended: The Girl From Plainville on Hulu

It may have A-list talent, but Hulu's dramatization of the Michelle Carter case is a tawdry good time
  • Elle Fanning and Colton Ryan in The Girl From Plainville. (Photo: Steve Dietl/Hulu)
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    The Girl From Plainville | Hulu
    Eight-Episode Limited Series (True Crime) | TV-MA

    What's The Girl From Plainville About?

    It's based on the actual case of high school student Michelle Carter, who was tried for manslaughter after her manipulative text messages were blamed for pushing her boyfriend to suicide. 

    Who's involved?

    • Elle Fanning takes a break from The Great to play Michelle.
    • Colton Ryan (Dear Evan Hansen) plays Michelle's depressive boyfriend Conrad Roy III, who is affectionately known as Coco by his family.
    • Chloë Sevigny (The Act, Boys Don't Cry) is Coco's mother Lynn, who initially tries to be kind as Michelle's so-called grief causes her to be inappropriately forward with the Carter family.
    • Broadway star Norbert Leo Butz (Bloodline) does excellent, slow-burn work as Coco's dad, who's trying to ignore his own guilt for being so emotionally gruff with his boy.
    • Cara Buono (Stranger Things) is deliciously entitled as Michelle's narcissitic mother.
    • Oscar nominee and Emmy winner Lisa Cholodenko (The Kids Are All Right, Olive Kitteredge) directs three of the eight episodes. 

    Why (and to whom) do we recommend it?

    The Michelle Carter case isn't just lurid: It's lurid in a very modern way. The idea of teenagers using text messages to coerce each other into tragic acts prods our anxiety that technology has robbed us — and especially our children — of the ability to make meaningful personal connections. Additional details, like Carter's obsession with the show Glee, only stoke the notion that Conrad Roy's death was a devastating product of our media-numbed age.

    This is what crime dramas are made to explore. We look to these shows not only because there's dark allure in watching people do terrible things, but also because it's comforting to see a concrete story emerge from our amorphous social fears. Sometimes, these stories can be elegant, subtle, and artistically exhilarating, and sometimes they can be tawdry, exploitative, and ruthlessly sensational. Both have their merits.

    The Girl From Plainville would seem to be positioning itself as high art, but it's much easier to enjoy as above-average pulp. Because, come on: In one episode, we see Michelle recite an entire Glee monologue in the mirror while she weeps and pretends it's about her life. Elle Fanning's performance is filled with snot, tears, and affected clutches of her chest. The camera keeps cutting to the episode of Glee on her laptop to make sure we appreciate the tonal similarity. This is high drag.

    Similarly, at one of Michelle and Conrad's few in-person meet-ups, they buy a pair of matching bunny ears at a tacky gift shop. Later, we see Michelle crying about Connor's death while trying tear to the bunny ears in half, and we also see his mom weeping as she buries a dead bunny in her yard. The only thing missing from this heavy symbolism is a scene of Coco's father wearing a Bugs Bunny tie while he looks at the kid's yearbook photo.

    These gestures are so audacious that they're spectacular, and they don't let up when Michelle's case goes to trial. The good news is that everyone in the cast has the gusto needed to make it work. While there is probably a much more thoughtful study of this case to be made, it's okay that The Girl From Plainville goes in a different, yet undeniably entertaining direction. If you're gonna be trashy, be trashy like this. 

    Pairs well with

    • I Love You, Now Die (HBO), a documentary about the same case.
    • Clickbait (Netflix), a fictional show about an internet-based murder.
    • The Act, (Hulu), an equally sensational (but more sophisticated) look at another famous crime.

  • The Girl From Plainville
    Three episodes premiere on Hulu March 29. New episodes Tuesday through May 3.
    Created by: Liz Hannah and Patrick Macmanus. Based on an Esquire article by Jesse Barron
    Starring: Elle Fanning, Colton Ryan, Chloe Sevigny, Aya Cash, Norbert Leo Butz, Cara Buono, Kelly AuCoin, Michael Mosley, and Peter Gerety.
    Directed by: Lisa Cholodenko, Liz Hannah, Zetna Fuentes, and Pippa Bianco.
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    TOPICS: The Girl From Plainville, Hulu, Aya Cash, Cara Buono, Chloe Sevigny, Colton Ryan, Elle Fanning, Kelly AuCoin, Lisa Cholodenko, Liz Hannah, Liz Hannah, Michael Mosley, Norbert Leo Butz, Patrick Macmanus, Peter Gerety, Pippa Bianco, Zetna Fuentes