There is nothing I enjoy more – especially in metaphorically and literally dark times – than a high-concept, low-effort watch. Something that catches the attention and does not demand too much. Something that brings back fond memories of similar shows you can’t fully call to mind. That makes you go: “Ooh, this is a bit like that thing we liked! With that actor! And her that we like too! Set in a hotel. Or the woods? Or a hotel in the woods? Remember?” as you wriggle more deeply and comfortably into the sofa.
Ladies and gentleman, I give you Limetown, from newcomer streaming service/latest Zuckerberg tentacle to slide its way into our lives, Facebook Watch. Like the 2015 podcast from which it originated, Limetown tells the fictional story of Lia Haddock, a journalist determined to find out what happened to 326 people who vanished without a trace 15 years ago. They disappeared from the eponymous township that housed a scientific research facility, and where Dr Oskar Totem, a charismatic scientist, held out the promise of a utopian society brought about by people working on the sciencey research undertaken in the scientific research facility. Science!
(There is no hint of an answer to the much greater mystery at Limetown’s heart: namely why, with all names in recorded history at their disposal, the creators decided to christen their protagonist Haddock. Maybe we will learn more if a second series is commissioned. I hope so.)
One of the missing is Lia’s beloved uncle, played by Stanley Tucci. Lia is played by a bobbed Jessica Biel, whose beauty and star quality seem once again to have landed her a part unworthy of her considerable talents. At least Tucci ensures she is not alone. No one is in Limetown in service of anything more than the plot, which is so carefully designed to be addictive that you absolutely loathe yourself for falling victim to it. Puppets, all of us – mere puppets – dancing happily to the tune of pure hokum.
All the notes are hit. A single distress call from the town on the day of the disappearance. A mysterious security firm barring entry to the emergency services. A network of caves under the town, apparently unused during the rapid exodus. No signs of panic or struggle – unless you count the charred body of Oscar, crucified on a lamp post. People engaging in fabulously redundant dialogue. Lia, standing by the lamp post 15 years later, notes that the Romans used this method of execution “to send a message”. “Awful, awful way to die,” replies her companion. “It was supposed to be,” says Lia. And on we go, having got nowhere.
Then! Right on second-episode cue appears a woman, Winona (Kelly Jenrette), who claims to be one of the missing. But! Winona seems unstable and her memory is fragmentary. She can only recall seeing experiments in the facility suggestive of telepathy; the initials SVLA; an operation like one you might undergo if a cultish leader was inserting a microchip into your brain with – we must infer – malevolent intent; and the fact that this is all she is allowed to say by another missing person with whom she is in contact. Lia deduces that the initials are in fact the name of the woman’s daughter, Sylvia, whom she does not remember at ALL – and that Something is definitely Afoot. It turns out that it’s one of those mass disappearances from scientific research laboratory-centred towns that you really have to worry about.
The bulk of the action is actually a flashback, bookended by scenes of Lia trembling in her hotel room after this interview as a man stands outside yelling: “This is your warning!” and banging his head off her door. But Lia has come too far, too severely bobbed to give up now.
Limetown is tosh of the highest quality. It has touches of Wayward Pines, second-tier X-Files episodes and that thing I can’t remember the name of but they all woke up in a hotel with no idea how they got there and unable to leave. You know? It had him and her from that thing in it. I am in for the duration, and happily so, but your mileage may vary, and I can’t say I would blame you if it did. They did, after all, choose to call her Lia Haddock.