Candy, Hulu’s five-episode true-crime miniseries set in the suburbs of the early-1980s Texas, asks two questions about its eponymous inspiration, Candace Montgomery. First: What compelled the beatific housewife and vacation Bible study leader to hack her friend Betty Gore to death with an ax? And second: How the hell did she convince a jury that she struck her friend 41 times in self-defense?
Jessica Biel, once the Camdens’ wayward daughter on 7th Heaven and later the eponymous sinner on The Sinner, now plays another conflicted character of faith. A choir singer and Sunday school teacher, Candace Montgomery is a cheerful pillar of her community beloved by children and adults alike. She’s the perfect foil to Betty Gore, a saturnine disciplinarian who loses her job as a schoolteacher because she can’t keep her class in line without giving them all detention. (On multiple occasions.) Melanie Lynskey, peeking out from under a dowdy bowl cut wig, plays the doomed sad sack with a mixture of bitterness and exhaustion. So, why did Candy kill her?
Both Candy and Betty appear to be grasping for intimacy in their marriages to dutiful but disengaged men. Candy’s attempts to rekindle the flame with her devout, kind-hearted dud of a husband, Pat (Timothy Simons), keep going up in smoke, leaving her to work out her sexual frustrations in the tub least at least until she finally decides to take a lover. Betty, meanwhile, spends half her time on screen begging her husband, Allan (Pablo Schreiber), to stop leaving her so often for weekend work trips. For her, the home is like a jail cell — darkened and full of noises she can’t control. (Although in this case, the ruckus is just … kids being kids.)
As sweet as she might appear on the outside, Candy’s sugary coating masks a noxious tangle of repressed anger and frustrations not unlike those that plague her friend. While Betty wears her bitterness on her sleeve, Candy hides it away at her core.
Jessica Biel replaced Elisabeth Moss as star of the series last year, and it’s difficult to imagine how the series might have looked with the Handmaid’s Tale and Shining Girls star at its center. For this production, however, Biel feels like the perfect choice to play Candace — charismatic, dizzying, and feral. She leads with smooth smiles and undercuts them with dissociative middle-distance stares; Her over-busy housewife character is doting and domestic but also athletic and fierce.
The rest of the cast packs a similar punch. Lynskey, who’s been having a moment since Yellowjackets exploded, oscillates between empathetic, pitiable, and frustrating as Betty; Schreiber’s Allan seems to both love and resent his wife, and Orange Is the New Black‘s Resident Porn’ Stache is delightfully adept at playing the bereft widower. (Come for Allan saying he doesn’t know how to change a diaper but figures his engineering degree will help him figure it out, and stay for the moment he finds out what happens when you load a dishwasher with regular old dish soap.)
Simons quietly steals the show in every scene he’s in as Pat, a lovable dope whose intuition as a father is far sharper than his insight into his wife. And onetime Law & Order: SVU ADA Raul Esparza is an inspired choice to play Candy’s attorney, Don Crowder — whom she knew from church and who the show implies knew Candy perhaps a little more closely than they wanted anyone in the courtroom to realize.
“Simons quietly steals the show in every scene he’s in as Pat, a lovable dope whose intuition as a father is far sharper than his insight into his wife. ”
Fans of The Sinnerwhich saw Biel playing another haunted murderer character in its first season, will recognize Candy‘s approach to its true-crime elements. Like the USA drama, the Hulu miniseries adopts a “whydunit” approach to the mystery at its core — a useful tactic that ensures all viewers, those who already know the details of Montgomery’s killing of Gore and those who don’t, will find themselves intrigued. Creators Nick Antosca (The Act) and Robin Veith (The Expanse) blend slow-simmering crime drama with humor that flirts with camp but never fully embraces it.
Throughout its five-episode run, however, Candy hints at the more sure-footed series — or perhaps, made-for-TV movie — that might have been. Early scenes like a steamy volleyball game replete with furtive butt glances and thigh-level high-fives are shot with a quiet humor that, over time, unfortunately gives way to more sincere courtroom drama. I found myself consistently wishing that the show had allowed itself just one more inch of latitude — just a little more humor here, a bit more idiosyncratic energy there. In the absence of real tension, Candy has a tendency to spin its wheels — a slightly sour note on an otherwise sweet formula.