‘Love and Death’ Review: The HBO Max Series with Elizabeth Olsen is DOA
Lesli Linka Glatter’s brilliant direction can’t save a limited series about a literal ax murderer who somehow still feels like David E. Kelley on autopilot.
The phrase “if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all” is rarely useful when it comes to popular entertainment. TV thrives on genre stories, telling seemingly endless variations of medical, detective and demonic procedurals without losing the audience’s hard-earned attention. Plus, seeing every story as nothing more than a copy of what you’ve already seen tends to ignore the craft of good television and/or its evolution. Sure, you could argue that if you’ve seen “Columbo” or “Monk” you’ll “get” what “Poker Face” is about — but then you’d be dismissing Natasha Lyonne’s smoky star power, Rian Johnson’s skill. direction and artistic attributes within an intelligent “howcatchem”. (Not to mention you’d be missing out on a lot of other clever mystery series.)
But when it comes to “Love and Death,” writer/producer David E. Kelley’s (non-HBO) Max original series, the previously released options prove as plentiful as they are hard to ignore. Most recently, “Candy,” a 2022 Hulu original series from Nick Antosca and Robin Veith about Candy Montgomery, a suburban housewife who killed her friend Betty Gore with an ax in 1980. “Love and Death” tells the same true crime story over seven episodes (“Candy” did it in five episodes), but despite drawing from the exact same well, the new edition shares similarities with Kelley’s previous projects. If Meryl Streep lured you into ‘Big Little Lies’ Season 2 or had the misfortune of enduring ‘The Undoing,’ then you know what to expect in ‘Love and Death’ – another painting from the provocative synopsis according to Latvian numbers. , a faux-prestige courtroom drama, where the only shocking twist is how little effort is made to differentiate this series from its predecessors.
That said, not everyone involved is guilty of negligence. Lesli Linka Glatter directs five of the seven episodes with a patience and curiosity that only her central star can match. “Love and Death” pulls off the dreaded media-res opening—flashing to give a glimpse of the grisly murder scene—but the hints are brief enough to function more as reassurances than teases as the story takes its time to build up to the titular death. . . Glatter enjoys the stage. His camera travels around the city, inviting viewers to the warm, family-friendly and spiritually-directed streets of Wylie, TX. Candy (Elizabeth Olsen) sings in the church choir. She and her husband Pat (Patrick Fugit) are on the parish council. She plays on the Methodist volleyball team, and he cheers her on from the stands. Her best friend Jackie (Elizabeth Marvel) is their preacher.
A chance collision on the track leads her to notice Allan Gore (Jesse Plemons) – and by notice I mean take a liking to the married father of two. Although Candy is an excellent housewife and a well-behaved member of the community, she is not fussy. She’s startlingly aware of her desires and what drives them, and is quick to tell her “back friends” exactly what’s on her mind. “What do you mean ‘he smelled like sex’?” Candy’s other confidant, Sherry (Krysten Ritter), asks when they discuss the sudden attraction. Candy, like any good churchgoer, knows that it’s not a good idea to have an affair. She is well aware that this could hurt her husband and Allan’s wife, Betty (Lily Rabe), not to mention that it could jeopardize her good standing in town. It’s not that he doesn’t care about these things, it’s that he is needs this. “I wasn’t looking for the best. I was looking for something more transcendent,” he says.
Boy, he finds it, even if the series certainly doesn’t. As Candy embarks on a fateful affair, Kelley’s interest in what compels her protagonist to take such risks wanes. The show seems content with the “bored housewife” explanation, acknowledging her repressed identity but never following through enough to point the finger at her faith, her upbringing, or even the tight-knit community she longs for. The best thing you can say about “Love and Death’s” thematic contribution to true crime (or TV in general) is its surprising empathy for Candy. He doesn’t let her completely off the hook, but instead of delving into the many unknowns of his case, he’s completely invested in his story.
Courtesy of Jake Giles Netter / Max
Sticking to a central point of view helps keep things from getting too messy — figuring out darker motivations or pondering scandalous, speculative possibilities — but robs “Love and Death” of its narrative drive. The affair, the crime, and the cover-up are dwarfed by the trial, as they are in too many of Kelley’s series, but this feels especially egregious since we know what’s going on. The case isn’t exactly obscure (it’s easy to Google what actually happened), and it’s been chronicled in another original series that’s barely a year old.
Worse, “Love and Death” never questions the framework of Candy’s events, leaving nothing to explore on the witness stand. We just sit and watch the lawyers reframe and recycle what we’ve already seen go down and wait for a verdict that just isn’t dramatic enough to justify the hours of build-up. As Candy’s over-the-top but arrogant lawyer, “Ozark” Tom Pelphrey is both a delightful buffoon and emblematic of the series’ twisted structure. Most of the fun in the last three hours comes from his sassy Texas accent and attack-dog personality, often cursing the “fat dick” judge or talking sweet nonsense to the TV cameras, but is that… also bad? Candy should have no say in the last third of her own story, beyond Olsen’s refreshingly honest portrayal of a woman who never really he had to lie and so of course he does it pretty badly? Yes, yes, it should, but it really doesn’t.
“The Undoing” and “Big Little Lies” (both for HBO) behind “Boston Public,” “The Practice” and “LA Law” Kelley, the former attorney (and 11-time Emmy winner) . twice carved out his own TV niche. Its network-friendly fare thrived in the procedural format before its premium offerings trod the same murder-mystery terrain. With “Love and Death,” it’s clearer than ever that the ground is running out, and you either have to embrace the courtroom drama genre with renewed gusto or try something completely different. It doesn’t matter where you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it before.
“Love & Death” premieres Thursday, April 27 on Max with three episodes. A new episode will be released every week until the finale on May 25.
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