Sunday, May 29, 2022

‘The Essex Serpent’ Review: A Lackluster Tale of Zealotry & Superstition

While Apple TV+’s newest limited series, The Essex Serpent, based on the novel by Sarah Perry, seemingly had every tool for a great series at their disposable. With an exceptional cast, a gorgeous setting, the jaunt back in time for that alluring period piece, and a vicar Tom Hiddleston lumbering about the marshes in a Mr. Darcy-esque duster, what could go wrong, right? Well, it turns out something could.

The Essex Serpent promised a beautifully eerie tale of superstitions running rampant, but I wondered more about why I should be caring about this mythical serpent above anything else. The stakes of the story simply aren’t presented well enough to capture my interest, outside of the villagers full of zealots ready to begin a witch hunt for reasons I’m really not still sure about either.

The performances buoy the lifeless tale, with all five of our main stars keeping me captivated enough to finish the six-episode slog. Hiddleston does what he does best, bringing that unique blend of Hiddles-brood to his lust-stricken vicar Will Ransome, playing beautifully off of Danes’ damaged Cora Seaborn. However, my favorite of the bunch had to be Frank Dillane’s Dr. Luke Garrett. I won’t lie, the last time I saw Dillane was in the Harry Potter franchise as a child Voldemort and I was delighted to see that ethical ambiguity once again played out. Throughout the entirety of the series the most exciting aspect was trying to figure out Dr. Garrett, and I won’t say more as he really is the most engaging player in the game.

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In terms of what else went well, I did particularly enjoy the science versus religious zealotry that wove its way into the series, something I think it could have leaned into more. The clash of Danes’ woman of logic and the very religious townspeople of Aldwinter with Hiddleston’s vicar somehow being a voice of reason was an interesting dynamic that should have been more heavily utilized. Instead, we flip-flop around too many moving pieces without a good enough build-up.

It’s not a bad series; again, the acting is superb, the sets are gorgeous, and it almost had me on multiple occasions, but it lacks that hook that sinks into my brain and holds it hostage as I wait for a resolution. Because, in reality, no problems needing a resolution ever really presented themselves.

The Essex Serpent premieres Friday, May 13 exclusively on Apple TV+ with its first two episodes. The remaining four will release weekly each Friday.

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