Limetown: a letdown?

Did you take in the Limetown double feature? I’m late to the party because I only just listened to this podcast, which debuted shortly after Serial launched the medium into popularity.

Limetown was a fictional series perfectly calibrated for the emerging murderino audience, with all the makings of a solid mystery: a top-secret technology, a community that vanished overnight, and a dogged reporter narrator determined to uncover what happened to the town’s 300+ missing inhabitants, including her long-lost uncle Emile.

The show had been sitting in my queue for ages until Facebook announced its video series adaptation, so this month I finally dove in and binged both seasons in just two days.

The style of the show sounds a bit dated now, considering how sophisticated podcasting has become over the past few years. I don’t often listen to scripted/acted podcasts, so I was a little put off by the show’s old-school man-on-the-street style, complete with atmospheric sound effects and overbearing narration (It reminded me of another cheesily earnest mystery podcast, TANIS). Pet peeves aside, I pushed through so I could enjoy Facebook’s adaptation starring Jessica Biel, and I hoped she would infuse the story with the same dark and twisty energy that made her so exciting to watch in last year’s limited series The Sinner. After finishing all ten episodes, I’m not convinced that she succeeded.

As with any podcast adapted into a show, the added visuals must be compelling enough to justify the show’s existence. And yet, Facebook’s treatment somehow thinned out a plot that already felt stretched too far. I’ll admit that I didn’t pay great attention to all the characters or details of the story while listening to the podcast, so watching the show did clear up a few points for me. But when you translate a ten-episode podcast into five hours of video, there’s going to be bloat.

The efforts to round out the story appeared obvious and blatant. For example, the show adds in characters just to make them interact with Lia (don’t care) and spends long flashbacks and tense add-in scenes sharing details about Lia’s personal life (didn’t ask). These extra characters mostly serve to show how far Lia will go to pursue the Limetown story at any cost, lumping her in nicely with all the other cliche obsessive reporters who self-destruct over their work. Lia doesn’t seem to have any qualities besides relentless determination and angst, but at least she isn’t a drunk, I guess? I’m sure the intent was to flesh out the characters, but it all struck me as a distraction because, personally, I don’t care if Lia argues with her made-up-partner Mark. But I suffered through to see the end of the mystery, because honestly I didn’t catch the reveal when I was listening to the podcast.

For me, Limetown’s biggest failing is its lack of distinct visual style. More ambitious adaptations Homecoming and Mosaic used overt flourishes like wide shots and weird angles to emphasize viewers’ sense of confusion, but the cinematography in Limetown tries to create a deep and serious mood solely with dim lighting. There’s not a lot of background music or ambiance going on, and even the flashback scenes feel hollow. The strength of the Limetown podcast was the descriptive dialogue in Lia’s interviews with the other characters, but when acted out, these scenes don’t necessarily provide any more impact. Instead, it just feels like an odd exercise in world-building.

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When the show does assert some kind of style, it’s in the form of weird anachronistic choices that don’t pay off. Lia’s unselfconscious use of a handheld recorder is my favorite flub, because in an era when everything can clearly be recorded on a phone, why is she holding a digital recorder up to the speaker of a hotel landline and expecting to get usable audio for her radio show? I could handle Lia’s personal anecdotes (ramblings) in the podcast, where every thought was spoken anyway, but when Jessica Biel’s somber and badly-bobbed Lia started speaking into her recorder as if it was her diary, I rolled my eyes so hard I had to watch something else for a bit. (That’s my second favorite reporter cliche: neurotics who only chase after personal stories.)

Lia’s whole recorder schtick is supposed to tie back to her memories of taping weird, creepy “interviews” with her missing uncle Emile, who should be a much more interesting character considering how obsessed she is with finding him. Which brings me to my single biggest issue with the whole story: Why is Lia so haunted by this uncle when she apparently only has a single memory of him? I kept waiting for the story to validate her fixation with his disappearance, but the show left me hanging.

I think I was really hoping for an elevated bio-sci-fi mystery along the lines of Homecoming or Maniac, or that episode of Black Mirror where people could replay and share their memories. But this isn’t quite it.

Did you watch and listen to Limetown? What did you think?