Fifteen years ago, over 300 people suddenly disappeared from a neuroscience research facility in Tennessee and were never found. Or, so the story of Limetown goes, which began as a fiction podcast from Zack Akers and Skip Bronkie and has now made the jump to the small screen as a Facebook Watch series. Playing off of the same structure and familiar patter of a This American Life podcast, the story fittingly follows American Public Radio investigative journalist Lia Haddock (Jessica Biel) as she continues to search for the truth of what happened at Limetown, where her uncle (Stanley Tucci) also disappeared.
Limetown is a spooky puzzlebox series that sets up this strange event and introduces us to a manufactured town that housed the researchers and their families, who would also become the guinea pigs for mysterious neurological experiments. Each half-hour episode of the series (four of which were available for review) sees Lia going down the rabbit hole of what exactly those experiments were by making contact with unexpected survivors after believing that the story (and the town itself) was at a dead end.
Like a real true crime podcast, Limetown (the TV series, at least—I have not heard the podcast) features descriptions of gruesome scenes and disturbing depictions of past murders, suicide, and a current bludgeoning. A dark, simmering score heightens the creep factor as Lia is “warned off” her investigation yet pulled deeper into the horror that seems to lie behind this faux-happy town. Visiting the rotting Limetown 15 years later carries a sinister weight, as do mentions of the networks of caves below, which each house is connected to. But Lia, herself, has some secrets of her own that manifest in the sexualizing of her obsessive audiophile sensibilities.
Other than that, we don’t know much about Lia or really anything besides the very specific episodic stories told to advance the mystery. It’s a conceit that feels better suited to a dynamic feature-length thriller rather than a sleepy, drawn-out series, but it’s just one of the ways that the show’s podcast origins are clear. The adaptation also leans heavily on sound, and as such you can enjoy it just as much by closing your eyes and imaging the series’ flashbacks as you do literally watching them. The same was true with Amazon’s languid Homecoming series; the direction here is not as novel, but the very slow-burn mystery that hinges on a series of one-on-one interviews is identical.
Biel does her best with thin material for Lia, which sometimes means leaning too far into melodrama to spice up quiet scenes. Though the series does seem to want to create enough that’s visually interesting to justify itself as a series and not just a podcast, so far it’s mainly just a creepy, gruesome chronicling of various everyday evils that are all connected to a larger sci-fi-tinged tragedy. Limetown is an easy binge in terms of its cliffhangers and ability to create a weird enough mystery to want to know the truth behind it. But it’s also a slow, dark crime story that focuses only on the crime itself, to the detriment of getting to know its characters better, or any possible hint of lightness that would make us want to stay in Limetown long enough to get answers.
Limetown premieres Wednesday, October 16th on Facebook Watch.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV