Fact is always crazier than fiction. That’s the premise of Hulu’s latest true crime docudrama that is equal parts grisly murder and dizzy character study.
Candy is a guilty pleasure that mixes the melodramatic sunniness of a soap opera with the gritty realism of fact-based storytelling. That mix of fantasy and bloodshed serves the series well, especially in later episodes when things really get going. Hulu’s latest, which is set to premiere on May 9th with a daily rollout over the next five days, matches the sinister undercurrents of nasty neighbors with a shocking crime that rocked a community and riveted a nation. It also carries the scandalous must-watch feel of a made for tv miniseries of that time.
An ax hangs ominously in the garage like Chekhov’s gun, ready to be swung. A nagging sense of doom hangs over everything that holds you rooted in the story and the idea that you will be surprised by what happens next. This is God’s country in the late seventies and early eighties, where people will bless your heart and stab your back. Candy, a nearly unrecognizable Jessica Biel in a frizzy brown perm and massive owl glasses, spends her days driving kids around, judging others, and being deeply unsatisfied. One day she snaps and kills her friend Betty Gore, a brittle and oppressive Melanie Lynskey fresh off her standout performance in Showtime’s Yellowjackets. Candy doesn’t make you wait for the murder.
There’s a lot said about the pressures of suburbia. The exploration of how that can make a person snap works here because the story is so unbelievable. In real life, Candy Montgomery whacked Betty Gore with an ax 41 times like a cul-de-sac Lizzie Borden. She then showered in Betty’s bathroom and went about her day, leaving Betty’s newborn alone for thirteen hours as if nothing had happened. She was found not guilty by self-defense because she claimed Betty attacked her after accusing her of having an affair with her husband(which she was).
Somehow the jury ignored that whole cleaning up and abandoning a baby thing. You can’t make up things like that, and creators Robin Veith and Nick Antosca know it. So they smartly let the wild story do the work sucking us into this world of coed volleyball, vacation bible school, and lascivious secrets. It’s what every prestige show like this should be. It’s too good to be true and entertaining as Hell.
Candy is not interested in the whats or whos because those we know. It’s the why of it all that is so captivating, and Biel’s Candy is so deftly capable of slipping her masks of sweet and wholesome for one of mean girl judginess that you begin to wonder who the real Candy is. Hulu’s series keeps us focused on the idea that our desires can overwhelm us and that just about anyone is capable of terrible things given the right circumstances. Primarily that is due to Biel’s committed performance, which is helped by a trippy score by Ariel Marx, which is as strangely mesmerizing as the enigmatic housewife.
Showrunner Veith wisely builds a broad story that allows Betty to be both victim and villain despite her gruesome death in the first episode. We get context for what eventually goes down in the brass-handled, wood-paneled palace of domestic unbliss. The series constantly asks and never quite answers who first attacked who?
Veith and Antosca’s series seems to make the connection that everyone had a hand in this gruesome murder. The town and church that enable and seem to need Candy’s plastic perfection, a neglectful husband more worried about running than satisfying his wife, a conspirator who is locked inside his own tedious life, and an achingly needful dead friend who is desperate to fit in. Everyone wants something, and Candy seems to say that when those desires overwhelm, bad things can happen, especially when the perpetrator is a cherry-pie Christian who feels as slighted as she does entitled.
Candy is Queen Bee in a world where you are expected to have the perfect husband, keep an immaculate lawn and house, have 2.5 precious children, know everyone’s business while simultaneously keeping your own, and bake a killer cobbler. Behind every “Gosh, Yall” is a heaping dose of hypocrisy. Despite having everything, Candy was bored. She wanted spice and sexiness, and her husband wasn’t cutting it. Veep’s Timothy Simons is Candy’s milquetoast husband, Pat. He is doting, supportive, and sweet in a golden retriever kind of way. Although he is a true partner to Candy, he is dull as dirt, a fact that we see play out fairly early on when the years leading up to Betty’s shocking death play out.
A mustachioed Pablo Schreiber(Halo) barely contains his smoldering sex appeal beneath an impressive amount of repression and emotional stiltedness. Schreiber is incredible in the first episode, especially where we have to watch painfully as the hours tick by, and he begins begging neighbors to check on his wife while stuck on a business trip far from home. Simons is brilliant in the final two acts as it becomes increasingly clear his flawless wife is far from it.
Melanie Lynskey’s Betty Gore is a mass of rage, regret, and insecurity. She brings her signature prim delivery to every agonizing scene. She is pissy and controlling and barely holding it together. Her desire to be everything she thinks Candy is is painful to watch in large part because Lynskey never lets Betty become too unhinged. She pulls back just enough that we sympathize with Betty even when she relentlessly hounds Alan about his travel, calling his boss to reprimand him about sending him on the road multiple times and demanding an entire class attend detention. She’s a piece of work that you feel could have been a ticking time bomb. Lynskey plays her so tightly wound the question of what really happened that day is left to linger like ripe fruit.
Some disjointedness could be jarring but speaks to the chaotic nature of this crime. Life and death seldom are straight lines, and Candy, both the character and the series, revel in the curvy bits shrouded in shades of grey and pink. There’s something evil there despite all the window dressing that we can’t help but stare at even if we get bit. It’s an uncomfortable truth that picks at the scab of this community. Betty was relegated to the victim, while Candy got to retain both her life and her status.
It takes two to tango, and it seems a misstep to paint Candy as such a sinewy seductress with her creme de menthe cakes and sweaty terry cloth shorts while Alan is treated as a repressed soldier doing the best he can. Poor Betty gets the worst of it being boxed as a frigid child with no idea how sex works, despite two kids and an earlier affair. It can’t be fair to base her on what Candy and Alan say, can it?
Hulu’s Candy has a cheeky silliness because it knows it is just this side of bonkers. A mid-series volleyball scene meant to show just how on-edge and horny Candy is, gives us more glistening muscled bodies than we’ve seen since Top Gun’s famous sand volleyball scene. It is indulgent because this crime was, and Biel plays Candy as if she was too.
A comedic goofiness comes through, notably in the last two episodes that play out exactly as you might think something like this would. This is soapy viewing because the facts are quintessentially white lady ridiculous, and the performances are so good. Each episode sizzles along, making it easy to lose yourself for a few hours in all the insanity. Unsettling civility drenches everything in saccharine sweetness that makes you want to side-eye your neighbors or bring them some cookies. We can never know what goes on in our neighbors’ houses. Who knows if someone is sharpening their ax right now.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.