‘Limetown’ Review: Jessica Biel Stars in a Faithful (& Tense) Adaptation of the Podcast

     October 16, 2019

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Back in 2003, the residents of an entire town in the middle of the Tennessee foothills disappeared in the middle of the night. What happened to them remained a mystery for years, if only because no logical explanation could be found and no survivors had apparently turned up. Then, more than a decade later, a journalist named Lia Haddock decided to investigate. This is Limetown, the Facebook Watch series adapted from the podcast of the same name created by Skip Akers and Zack Bronkie, who are also executive producers on the show. It stars Jessica Biel and Stanley Tucci, who leads a strong supporting cast including Sherri Saum (The Fosters), John Beasley (The Purge: Anarchy), and Omar Elba (A Hologram for the King).

The Limetown podcast debuted back in 2015. Created by Skip Akers and Zack Bronkie (also credited as executive producers on the TV show), the podcast has invited comparisons to Serial and The X-Files in its premise and choice of storytelling medium. It wouldn’t be too far off the mark to say there are elements of This American Life or Twin Peaks and later, in the podcast’s eagerly-awaited Season 2, 24 sprinkled in there, too. The podcast format allowed for some unnerving turns as listeners moved from the safe of the fictional American Public Radio recording booth to the wider world as series protagonist Lia Haddock (initially voiced by Annie Sage-Whitehurst) searched for answers about the missing residents of the fictional research center and Mayberry-like Limetown.

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Image via Facebook Watch

For longtime fans of the Limetown podcast (myself included), you’ll be relieved to hear this is a very faithful adaptation. After watching the first four episodes (there are 10 total in Season 1), I couldn’t help but feel relief at the attention to detail here. We’re still following APR journalist Lia Haddock in her search for the truth about Limetown. As far as I can tell, all characters are present and accounted for, with new ones brought in to flesh out the story (Saum and Elba in particular play APR colleagues only vaguely referenced by Lia in the podcast). The circumstances around the disappearance of the town’s residents remain the same. The same pervading sense of dread, concern, and curiosity pervades here and colors everything, just as it has pervaded and persisted in Lia’s life, propelling her headlong into the investigation as the heart of the show. And even though Limetown recalls the color palette and tone of Homecoming, another podcast-to-TV adaptation, Limetown still feels like a wholly original take on its source material.

Scenes and occasionally lines have been recreated perfectly in the show, allowing those who once listened to the podcast and had to imagine it in their heads now get to see it actually play out. Seeing the show bring to life Limetown back in its heyday is a special treat and I’d go so far as to say what the show has created for the town is unlike anything listeners would have envisioned. It’s tough to say for certain but we may have to tip our caps to Akers’ and Bronkie’s involvement when it comes to how well the podcast’s first season episodes have been reimagined for TV. The cold open of the premiere episode and which is seen in the Limetown trailer, which focuses on Lia in a hotel room listening to a man bang on her door and scream as she nervously records, are set-up and framed to recreate the tension the arose if you listened to it on the podcast back in 2015.

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Image via Facebook Watch

If you haven’t listened to the podcast, fear not; Limetown is still very much an engaging, accessible series. Because the series focuses on an investigation, all the details of the Limetown disappearance need to be laid out, so there’s no risk of newcomers not being clued in on what’s important. New touches, like Lia actively memorizing all of the residents’ names and addresses, add much-needed emotional depth and continue to up the stakes as she becomes tied to this case. Whether you know the details of the Limetown story or not, the series effectively builds dread, teases out mysteries, and makes you feel like you simultaneously want to know the answers but don’t want to for fear of what you’ll be told.

As Lia, Biel gives a solid performance. She’s proven herself capable in the past of turning in a layered dramatic performance (The Sinner comes to mind) and here, in Lia’s shoes, she’s bringing an engaging, quiet intensity. The podcast never offered much space for Lia’s character development. We were only ever told of her familial connection to one of the Limetown residents, her uncle Emile (played on the show by Tucci). The Limetown TV series fills in more of Lia’s personality: she’s a dedicated journalist, sure, but she’s also a queer woman, a woman haunted by her childhood, a woman whose work has imprinted on her in ways she still has yet to process. More will undoubtedly come out about Lia throughout Season 1 but in Biel’s hands, what’s been presented about this character adds more fascinating layers to her and the show overall.

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Image via Facebook Watch

There are a few stumbles in Limetown, too. Expanding the show’s first season to 10 episodes when the podcast’s first season only had seven means new details and twists have been added to flesh the story out despite episodes only running 30 minutes. A prime example of this creative decision comes up in the third episode, which is ultimately a wild goose chase meant to propel us into the next big story beat. Instead, frustration ensues because you can feel Limetown risk meandering too far off course and for what reason?

But even when it’s stumbling, Limetown is still a deeply compelling watch. Just watching Lia tool around with her podcasting equipment feels exciting if only because we so rarely see the mechanics of podcasting onscreen. Limetown succeeds in nailing down its tone, creating a solid cast of characters, and staying close enough to the source material that it’s fulfilling for fans of the podcast while making sure there is no detail lost in the proverbial sauce for newcomers. The slow burn of dread as details about what was going on in Limetown and the fate of its residents makes it well worth your time.

Rating: ★★★★

Limetown is available to watch (for free!) on Facebook Watch right now.

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Image via Facebook Watch

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