Jessica Biel investigates a mass disappearance in uneasy, ominous series Limetown

Lia Haddock (Jessica Biel) investigates a mass disappearance in Limetownwatch it now on Neon. If you miss Mulder and Scully, love anything remotely Twilight Zone-esque, and couldn’t get enough of Serial, you’ll find plenty to enjoy, writes Dominic Corry.

The inherent creepiness of a cleanly presented small town provides the storytelling foundation for the mind-bending new Jessica Biel drama series Limetown, based on the podcast of the same name.

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Biel stars as Lia Haddock, a journalist working on a series for public radio about the titular community, a small town surrounding a research facility.

As Haddock explains, back in 2003, many of the world’s top neuroscientists moved to the research facility to work on a top-secret project. Less than a year later, a panicked 911 call came from the town, but when the authorities showed up, they were held at bay by a private security force, and not allowed to enter.

The security guards eventually relented, but when emergency services entered Limetown, they discovered that all 326 residents had vanished without a trace. It was a huge news story and no explanation was ever determined. The furore eventually died down, but Haddock’s modern-day investigation brings her closer to the truth than anyone has ever been which, naturally, puts her in danger.

As she tries to track down so-called “survivors” of Limetown and get to the bottom of the mystery, Haddock is also forced to confront her own demons.

Limetown has a nicely sustained vibe of sci-fi uncertainty and at times evokes everything from Lost (mysterious research facility) to ’60s cult fave The Prisoner (suspiciously perfect small town where not everything is as it seems) to The Leftovers (mass disappearance and the resulting panic). It even brings to mind the iconic 1993 videogame Myst, in how the crisp, autumnal production design of the small town informs a delicious sense of unease.

The launching point is classic Mystery Box material, but unlike many other Lost wannabes, Limetown doesn’t drag out its big reveals, or indeed hinge on them. This is as much a character study as it is a genre exercise, and Biel carries with her a heaviness that we learn more about as the series progresses.

The show catches up to its dramatic in media res opening by the end of episode two, and you’ll have a good idea of what they were up to at the Limetown Research Facility by halfway through the ten-episode series, but Haddock’s journey only gets more and more complicated from there.

While the movies never quite knew what to do with her, Biel has found substance on the small screen, with her bold Limetown performance building on her revelatory work in season one of The Sinner. She gives a performance that is well-suited to the literally dark aesthetics of this show, with her sharp cheekbones poking through the shadows ominously.

Other notable cast members include the great Stanley Tucci, playing Biel’s uncle (one of the people who disappeared), and Laura Palmer herself, Sheryl Lee, whose presence helps promote the show’s occasional tonal and aesthetic similarities to Twin Peaks. It’s also interesting to note Canadian actor Kandyse McClure’s presence as Lia’s girlfriend, as McClure appeared in the short-lived 2010 series Persons Unknown, which also concerned strange goings-on in a deserted small-town.

Limetown is based on a podcast of the same name that presented the story via Haddock’s radio reports. In a choice that allows the adaptation to have its cake and eat it too, the show follows Haddock as she gathers material for her audio reports, so there is a strong sense of aural aesthetics, but we’re not confined to the studio. It means this podcast adaptation gets to tell an expansive story (that goes far beyond Limetown itself) while existing in a space that includes the construction of audio-only storytelling.

Another notable point of difference here is that Limetown plays out in half-hour episodes, which very few drama series have ever done. One that did is the Julia Roberts/Janelle Monae show Homecoming, which was also based on a podcast, and also involved a mysterious research facility. Maybe there’s something about podcast-derived narratives that lends itself to half-hour drama.

Whatever the case, it gives Limetown a high degree of storytelling utility, and allows it to plow through its complications with welcome efficiency. It’s definitely guilty of the common TV crime of making journalism seem much more glamorous and well-resourced than it actually is—just watch Lia argue with her boss like she’s a grizzled detective fighting off a new partner—but that’s forgivable within the context.

One of an increasing number of podcast-derived series, Limetown‘s storyline takes it into an identifiable genre space, but the execution of that story is a bit more serious than those pulpy genre elements might suggest.

If you miss Mulder and Scully, love anything remotely Twilight Zone-esque and couldn’t get enough of Serial, you’ll find plenty to enjoy in this twisty little number.