Sky Atlantic’s new showpiece drama Sharp Objects is the outstanding new crime series from the televisual heavyweights over at HBO. Looking at its title, it’s only an errant ‘e’ away from being a miniseries about a Sean Bean-shaped soldier in the Napoleonic Wars who disagrees with something. Thankfully though, it isn’t that. It’s something far more entertaining and worthy than that. It’s an enthralling eight-part drama straight from the pen of Gone Girl’s Gillian Flynn (via the director’s chair of Big Little Lies helmsman Jean-Marc Vallée). It’s also your new favourite crime drama.
The opening episode wastes no time in establishing our main character’s fragility and troubled life. When she’s not drinking or chain-smoking, Camille Preaker is plagued by fractured flashbacks of her childhood. Spiky and ‘incorrigible’, in any other line of work Camille’s pigheadedness, depression and alcoholism would cause her some rather major issues. Luckily for her though, she’s a journalist; the very epitome of the hard-drinking and dogged crime reporter on a mission.
That mission? To leave the relative comfort of her St Louis office and return to the one horse town of her youth, the dead-end Wind Gap, Missouri. Once there, she’s to snoop around and ask questions about the recent murders of two young local girls. Which is easier said than done, given how insular the town is and how no one wants to really dwell on the bad news and paint the place in a bad light.
Camille’s job is made all the harder by the increasingly frequent and realistic recalls of her troubled past. Staying in her childhood home, an opulent mansion owned by her painfully delicate and selfish southern belle mother and stepfather, certainly doesn’t help. The (non-literal) ghost of her dead sister haunts every room. It’s the loss of her sister, we learn, that has so badly affected her.
A mixture of her subtle performance and the almost unnoticeable mise en scène around her really help paint a picture of the character.
The story is solid and there are bound to be some excellent diversions, revelations and threads along the way. Such is the quality of this first episode that you instantly forgive the plot’s rather well-worn path. The female investigator facing her past as she looks into a dark crime in her hometown is an oddly popular trope in crime dramas these days. The BBC’s In the Dark giving us just that very same story only last year.
Amy Adams plays Camille – which is good given that Amy Adams is the world’s finest living actress. Unsurprisingly, she handles the role perfectly. A mixture of her subtle performance and the almost unnoticeable mise en scène around her really help paint a picture of the character. We see she’s depressed by her demeanour. We know she’s an alcoholic by her incessant miniatures consumptions. But it’s the little clues to her chaos that fascinate here: her untidy apartment, her shoddy packing for the trip (bundled-up clothes, booze and KitKats in a bin bag), even her phone’s cracked screen hints at a level of personal havoc just below the surface.
No other big names pop up in Sharp Objects; the most recognisable faces belonging to Big’s Elizabeth Perkins as Jackie and The Station Agent and Six Feet Under’s Patricia Clarkson as Camille’s faded glam mother, Adora Crellin. Breakthrough actress Sophia Lillis, excellent as young Camille, may well ring a bell to anyone who saw the recent remake of Stephen King’s It. We look forward to seeing how Eliza Scanlan’s Amma – Camille’s half-sister – plays out too. She’s seems a fascinating character, sweet and innocent at home, a wild child outside of the four walls.
There’s the faintest of whiffs of potential romance in the shape of handsome-but-surly Kansas City detective Richard Willis (Argo’s Chris Messina) who’s been drafted into Wind Gap to help solve the murders. He seems cautiously interested in Camille, but her barriers are so highly built they’re almost in the clouds.
We’re looking forward to see how the story plays out, but even more intrigued to learn more about Camille Preaker. And we’re sure we will. One jab of Sharp Objects and we’re already hooked. Hopefully the slight cliches don’t begin to weigh the piece down, but it seems doubtful. In Flynn’s, Vallée’s and Adams’ hands, we should be more than safe.
Did you tune in for Sharp Objects episode 1? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below – then read our review of episode 2 here!