One of October’s most interesting new shows isn’t premiering on Netflix or HBO but on something called Facebook Watch, an on-demand service that the social media giant launched in 2017, and recently got some nice reviews for its original program “Sorry For Your Loss,” starring Elizabeth Olsen. Their latest will remind some of another 2018 hit half-hour drama adapted from a podcast in Amazon’s “Homecoming,” but this offering also reminded me of great sci-fi TV from the past like “The X-Files” and “The Twilight Zone.” Anchored by another great performance from Jessica Biel, “Limetown” is just engaging enough to get through its pretensions and, like its heroine, keep pushing forward in the hope of finding some answers. It’s a remarkably difficult show to review after only four episodes (and I’m not familiar with the podcast), so I can’t say for sure how this show sticks the landing, but I suppose all the recommendation you really need is that I’m eager to find out where it’s going.
The concept is a brilliant one. Years ago, a community of neuroscientists in a city called Limetown literally disappeared. Over 300 people vanished without a trace. It was as if they never existed, and Limetown became a legendary ghost town. Of course, rumors of what happened to them flourished over the years, and a podcaster named Lia (Biel) started her own investigation, fueled by the fact that her uncle Emile (Stanley Tucci) was one of the scientists who seemingly left this earthly plane that day. With her own emotional baggage, Lia begins digging into the story of Limetown, and each half-hour episode brings her a little closer to the truth.
Weaving flashbacks, interviews, and an investigation that seems to be increasingly dangerous into one narrative can sometimes be overwhelming for the team behind “Limetown.” It gets jumbled and lost in its own story sometimes, often feeling a bit too precious with its tone. There’s a difference between something that is legitimately ominous and creepy and something that is blatantly trying to be those things. “Limetown” often veers into the latter, as if it’s nudging you in the shoulder as it says, “isn’t this crazy?” As I watched the four episodes, I felt myself trying to unpack what the show was about thematically more than allowing its ideas to come to the surface. I imagine it’s a show that can play with theme and imagination more in podcast form than the literal one of television, and the creators never quite figured out how to bridge that gap.
Having said that, the mystery is more than engaging enough to keep me watching, and Biel really does a lot of heavy lifting in terms of holding it all together. Following her Emmy-nominated work in “The Sinner,” this is another solid performance from an actress that I truly hope keeps taking unique, challenging small-screen roles. Her take on Lia is wonderfully balanced in the way she conveys both her investigative drive and her personal connection to the story. Whenever “Limetown” threatens to spin off into its own pretensions, she brings it back down to earth.
Well, for now. I worry that "Limetown" is going to get more pretentious and possibly never even provide any true answers about what happened to the people who lived there. Even in the third and fourth episodes, it’s already getting deeply philosophical about connections to those we lost and grief, which could make for an emotionally powerful conclusion to the series or one that fails to fulfill on the promise of the concept. So if you come upon this review after “Limetown” has revealed its secrets on Facebook Watch and wonder why this critic wasn’t blown away or disgusted by the answers (or lack thereof), it’s because I have about as many questions as Lia Haddock right now. At least so far I’m enjoying considering their possible answers.
Four episodes screened for review.