Amy Adams can’t hone dull edges of HBO’s ‘Sharp Objects’
“Sharp Objects” transparently wants to be this year’s “Big Little Lies,” from its movie-star lead (Amy Adams) to the gauzy, washed-out tones and flashbacks employed by Jean-Marc Vallee, who directed both. The result, however, isn’t nearly as compelling, focusing on a missing-girl mystery that actually plays second fiddle by a long shot to the protagonist’s tortured personal odyssey.
Adapted from a book by “Gone Girl’s” Gillian Flynn — who contributed to the scripts, along with producer/showrunner Marti Noxon (“UnREAL”) — this eight-part limited series features Adams as Camille Preaker, a St. Louis reporter dispatched to investigate the story of a murdered young girl and a missing one in her small home town.
Soon enough, Camille’s cryptic, split-second flashbacks suggest that her reporting and being back home is dredging up painful memories — which, as dramatic devices go, feels both overused and a trifle tedious.
Camille’s psychological wounds manifest themselves in uncomfortable ways, and the anxiety she feels around her mother (Patricia Clarkson) — a big, flamboyant personality — hints that there are more secrets to be unearthed.
The damage, alas, extends to her work, as Camille joins a long and rather ignominious screen history of female reporters exhibiting questionable ethical judgment, gradually becoming involved with the detective (“The Newsroom’s” Chris Messina) working the case.
“Sharp Objects” surrounds Adams with a strong cast, which in addition to the aforementioned Clarkson and Messina includes Elizabeth Perkins as a knowing neighbor, Matt Craven as the sheriff and Henry Czerny as her stepfather. But there’s enough of a been-here, seen-that quality to the central plot that the series doesn’t generate much momentum or consistent tension over its run.
The underlying crime element inevitably recalls “True Detective,” the first season of which still serves as a sort of Holy Grail in terms of leveraging star power in a way that caused a genuine sensation. While a second version disappointed, HBO has since scored with the terrific “Big Little Lies” and “The Night Of.”
The pay channel is especially well-equipped to capitalize on that format, which can attract actors like Adams — whose pain is palpable, even when the details aren’t — with what amounts to a manageable time commitment. But it stands to reason the strategy would begin yielding diminishing returns, especially in the case of a project that feels this derivative.
Despite its marquee names, “Sharp Objects” scratches the surface of being interesting but can’t overcome its dull edges. That’s perhaps especially true when judging it, fairly or not, against recent fare that in a short time has honed the limited series into one of TV’s sharpest genres.
“Sharp Objects” premieres July 8 at 9 p.m. on HBO.