Odd and tense, “Candy” burnishes Jessica Biel’s crime-based limited series credentials, following her star-producer turn in “The Sinner.” Here, those two hats come in the service of an understated “whydunit” true crime yarn with all the trappings of a “Dateline” episode, which happily doesn’t overstay its welcome at five episodes.
Produced for Hulu, Biel dons a Harpo Marx wig to play the title role of an unhappy housewife, Candy Montgomery, who started an affair, broke her own rules in terms of not becoming emotionally attached and eventually wound up involved in a grisly act that claimed one life and shattered others.
Like “Fargo,” the small Texas town where this all unfolded is also a character, a place where people harbor grudges and live lives of quiet desperation while sitting beside those they’ve betrayed in church, wearing plastered-on smiles.
The victim, Betty Gore (Melanie Lynskey, fresh off “Yellowjackets”), is married to Allan (Pablo Schreiber), and her child and Candy’s are friends. That makes the series of events feel even more shocking and sad, with Betty raising a baby and upset about how much her husband travels for work, telling him when they take in an unhappy foster child, “I can’t handle another person in this house who doesn’t want to be here.”
Using a familiar device, “Candy” basically starts toward the ending and then works backward, portraying a community where everyone seems to be restless for different reasons, and a recreational volleyball team becomes the source of its own kind of mini-soap opera.
“Candy” comes with the requisite disclaimer, meaning there are liberties taken with the actual story, which feels even more obvious based on the darkly satirical tone, which is pulled off considerably better than something like the recent “The Truth About Pam.” The performances, starting with Biel and Lynskey, are sharp and convincing, and the unexpected turns down the stretch make this one of those fact-based productions where the less you know going in, the better.
Given the popularity murder and infidelity as the backdrop for true crime, it’s hard to stand out from that crowd. Hulu will try to achieve that in part through its scheduling approach, dropping a new episode each day Monday through Friday, or as we used to call that in olden times, “television.”
In similar fashion, “Candy” doesn’t break new ground, but nor does it really need to. Yes, it has plenty of company in this particular genre, but thanks to the principals, it’s a tastier treat than most.
“Candy” premieres May 9 on Hulu.