When it first hit the scene in 2015, Limetown was the podcast everyone was talking about. It was hip, it was mysterious, it was exciting; part of the first wave of true crime podcasts. What made Limetown unique was that it was fictional, yet oh so close to reality; many listeners were shocked to find out it wasn’t real at all. I reviewed the first season back then and gave it a solid 5/5 stars.
Fast forward to 2019, and the series was adapted for television by Facebook Watch and the team at Iron Ocean Productions. While I missed the show during its original run, it recently made its way to NBC’s Peacock where it’s available for free. Naturally, I had to check it out and see if this adaptation did a better job answering questions than Season 2 of the podcast did (this is a better review of Season 2 than I could have ever written. Spoilers, naturally).
Like the podcast, Limetown follows APR reporter Lia Haddock (played by Jessica Biel) investigating the disappearance of Limetown, a planned research community built in White County, Tennessee. All persons in Limetown went missing after an event called “The Panic,” and for a decade the mystery remained unsolved. Lia starts a podcast covering the town’s disappearance, and the bulk of the show follows her dark descent into Limetown and her attempts to find her missing uncle, Emile Haddock (played by Stanley Tucci).
The show hits strongest when it’s showing flashbacks of pre-panic Limetown. Stanley Tucci is a charmer in these scenes, as are characters like Warren Chambers (played by John Beasley) and Max Finlayson (played by Louis Ferreira). The writing also deviates from the podcast, allowing the end to play out in a more closed ended way that gives real answers the podcast kept in its mystery box. Director Rebecca Thomas has a serious eye for color and vibrant imagery; her lens makes even the tiniest moments vital to the story.
Where the show starts to break for me is in its portrayal of Lia Haddock.
In the podcast, Lia is driven for answers about her missing uncle. For her, Limetown is a family story, and the lines she crosses in pursuit of the story aren’t lines your average reporter wouldn’t cross if given the chance. The podcast isn’t about Lia Haddock, it’s about the story of Limetown first and foremost.
The TV adaptation flips this by focusing quite a lot on Lia’s private life. She’s shown to be dealing with mental illness, is an ass to her co-workers, and takes unnecessary and selfish risks in pursuit of the Limetown story, going as far as manipulating evidence and covering up a murder. The relationship with her girlfriend is shown to be unhealthy, as Lia was using her for the Limetown story. In one of show’s most disturbing scenes, Lia is shown placing a mic next to her sleeping producer, listening to his breathing through headphones, and proceeding to self-pleasure herself. This Lia Haddock is not a stable person; this Lia is one degree removed from Ellie in The Last of Us Part II.
The show’s best moment comes in the penultimate episode, where Stanley Tucci’s Emile gives Lia a chance to come back from the edge. There’s masterful acting here between Tucci and Biel, and in it the show demonstrates real maturity. You could cut the tension with a knife, and if the whole show was like this scene it would have been one for the ages.
Sadly, none of it comes together to make something endearing. Sure, the show provides answers the podcast didn’t, and it does justice to Emile that Season 2 of the podcast totally missed, but the show largely fails Lia Haddock’s character, ultimately to its detriment.
Limetown’s biggest draw for me was always that it takes place in Tennessee, making allusions to Oak Ridge and the Manhattan Project. But those allusions aren’t enough to leave me thrilled with this adaptation. It’s worth watching as a weird psychological thriller; but if you’re looking for that magic the first season of the podcast had, you won’t find it here.
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