Just about a year ago, we got the miniseries Candy from Hulu which got good reviews and was based on the same murder case that Love and Death covers. Unfortunately for Love and Death, I think the former show is still very fresh in viewer’s minds and for a real-life case with the story readily available, I wasn’t sure if there is enough intrigue to watch this new miniseries from HBO Max, which stars Elizabeth Olsen as Candace Montgomery. As someone who already knew the story, I was skeptical going into this one.
The official logline says, “This riveting drama, written by David E. Kelley and directed by Lesli Linka Glatter, tells the true story of Candy and Pat Montgomery and Betty and Allan Gore – two churchgoing couples enjoying their smalltown Texas life… until an extramarital affair leads somebody to pick up an axe.” The seven-part miniseries is written by David E. Kelley and Nicole Kidman is one of the executive producers. It is inspired by the book “Evidence of Love: A True Story of Passion and Death in the Suburbs” and a collection of articles from Texas Monthly (“Love & Death in Silicon Prairie,” Part I & II).
The best place to start is by talking about the strongest part of the show, which is the performances by the ensemble cast that includes Elizabeth Olsen, Jesse Plemons, Tom Pelphrey, Lily Rabe and Krysten Ritter among others. Olsen delivers a powerhouse performance as Candy. She is effortless in her portrayal but also full of conviction at the same time. She was completely believable as Candy Montgomery and made me sympathize with her character. Her chemistry with Jesse Plemons (who plays Allan Gore) was really good, who also gives a subtle but effective performance. There is a groundedness to his character, who rarely shows emotion, but Plemons finds nuances to establish screen presence.
Unfortunately, Krysten Ritter’s character does not get a lot of screen time and does not allow her to show her acting range. I wanted to see more of her character. Lily Rabe does a good job as well. But, the true standout among the ensemble was Tom Pelphrey (who plays Don Crowder). He brings much-needed charisma and gravitas to the show when it just starts to slow down and needs a spark. The first half of the show is much focused on the romance between Candy and Allan, hence he didn’t have a lot to do, but he lifts the second half when the court proceedings begin.
The show does a really good job of humanizing Candy’s character, who a lot of people would see as a brutal murderer. A lot of it was down to Olsen and her convincing performance, but also credit to Kelley’s writing. This show distinguishes itself from the Hulu miniseries by bringing more emotional depth and tonal layers to its characters, giving ample time to explore them around these mature themes. The show’s pacing is mostly consistent, which gave stability to the narrative and held my attention. The direction from the creative team was also impressive and did a good job in world-building and emotion-capturing. The story also goes into some dark places and I appreciate that it did not shy away from getting graphic at times, especially one sequence at the end which was harrowing to watch.
One area where it is weak is the amount of focus it gives to Candy’s perspective and the lack of contest to her version of events. It’s almost as if the script tries too hard to make the viewer connect with her. The story also loses grip of some of the characters once our protagonist is on trial and feels like they were neglected in a sense to put the entire focus on one event. There is also no real mystery to the story, especially if you already know about it, so it would be better to go in knowing as little as possible.
Overall, Love and Death is an absolutely riveting crime drama that engages from start to finish. The performances are Emmy-worthy, especially from Olsen and Pelphrey. It has visual appeal with vibrant costumes and solid production value and a dark story that reaches the complexities of fear, rage and trauma. With this show, HBO Max has a winner on their hands and I would definitely recommend checking it out.
Love and Death premieres on HBO Max with its first three episodes on April 27, followed by weekly episodes through May 25.