Candy

4 out of 5

Created by: Nick Antosca and Robin Veith

Out of the ongoing run of true-crime dramas running on our various streaming services lately, there’s been a trend of dipping into more and more recent events for the source material, which, regardless of however well something is acted or directed, limits the scope: there’s only so much commentary you can add to something when you’re only 5 minutes removed from it. So we end up getting a rundown of What Happened, but perhaps not much else. There’s also the general sensationalism that plagues these things, plus a penchant for treating odd happenstances as “quirky,” but without an iota of the pathos the Cohens brought to Fargo – which is always the template for such dramadies. On the flipside of both of these things, if a creator injects too much commentary or gravitas into things, it can trivialize, or serve to further sensationalize things. At the end of the day, these are true stories, and while hearing them taps into our innate behavior to looky-loo, ideally / hopefully we’re able to take something away from the stories as well, and not just a cookie for nodding at the most obvious moral lesson.

Candy, with its 70s setting, doesn’t directly trigger the first alarm bell, but with its era-appropriate ‘dos and leisure suits and quaint title sequence and dainty music, it sure seems like it’s going to dress up the murder of housewife Betty Gore – hit 41 times with an axe – in a particular way, landing us right back in faux-Fargo, trivial territory.

Some of that is there. But then you have Jessica Biel’s performance, and you have Melaine Lynskey’s performance, and when either of these two are on screen, the wigs and whatever else don’t matter; or rather, they do, in the sense that Biel and Lynskey become their characters – Candy Montgomery and Gore, respectively – and root us to our chairs to try to understand why the former murdered the latter. And regarding that, Candy (the show) is incredibly meticulous and smart in how it approaches its narrative, broadcasting the end result up front – the murder – but withholding actually showing it until we can get to know the character involved. Past that point, by jumping back and forth to times leading up to and after the event, the series avoids turning it into a puzzle box, and very much makes sure our focus is on the people, and not twisty-turny salaciousness.

On the edges of this, you have Timothy Simons as Pat, Candy’s husband, and Pablo Schreiber as Allan, Betty’s beau. Schreiber, also “on air” in Halo at this same time, is once again rather wooden; Simons is more animated, but isn’t necessarily more convincing as a result. However, this works within the context of Candy’s telling, because the men are intended to be hollow – it’s wound into the throughline of women locked into their roles as housewives during the era. But this is also not strictly a feminist screed: the women are certainly not perfect, and drawn into embitterment solely due to their husbands; their flaws butt against the confines, though, and there’s no opportunity to be, y’know, human.

The music (Ariel Marx) throughout is perfect, edging towards playful but always peeling back with notes of sadness. While the cinematography’s muddled browns can be a bit much, it was an overall smart play, toning down the out-of-time goofiness of some of the 70s aspects, and, in general, the shooting style and editing are incredibly effective, and immersive.

Towards the series’ wrap-up, we do start to fall into some true-crime traps of getting focused on details that are only there because they were there in the original news stories or whatnot, and the show does try to push a little toward poignancy which only ends up feeling forced, but this is balanced by some interesting tonal ambiguity sprinkled in as well.

But really, what we have here is a very well-handled show that tells the tale of a very strange murder, elevated to upper tiers by two amazing lead actresses.