Last year, this critic personally passed on covering Hulu’s Candy, a true crime limited series featuring Jessica Biel and Melanie Lynskey in leading roles. Now almost exactly a year later, HBO Max drama Love & Death arrives, covering the exact same topic. What this iteration lacks in stylistic flourishes and period-piece costume and hairstyling it more than atones for with excellent performances and strong writing. Elizabeth Olsen and Lily Rabe were perfect fits for these characters. The gripping story of Candy Montgomery and her rivalry with Betty Gore is nicely laid out across seven episodes, even if the home stretch begins to feel a little dragged out. 

It was September of 1978, and major changes were afoot in the sleepy small town of Wylie. As their church volleyball league is gearing up to start for the season, Betty (Rabe) and Candy (Olsen) are shook by the sudden divorce of their close friend pastor, Jackie (Elizabeth Marvel); to make matters worse, Jackie will be moving three hours away, and leaving their church for good. Jackie’s marital problems seem to awaken something within Candy herself. Despite being married, Candy catches feelings for pregnant Betty’s husband, Allan (Jesse Plemons). After a volleyball game, Candy pines for Allan, telling her girl friend, Sherry (Krysten Ritter), that he “smelled like sex.” By the end of the first episode, Allan and Candy have already engaged in a scandalous love affair.

Lest a casual viewer assume Love & Death will be nothing more than bored housewives and scandalous soap opera drama, there are more than a few tricks up its proverbial sleeves. The logline for the series indicates that of these two families, somebody will eventually “pick up an axe.” With this in mind, I kept waiting for the big confrontation to occur. However in this way, Love & Death was a little disappointing. Episode four is when we finally get to see it unfold, before taking a nosedive into courtroom drama territory. Even then, we are not made privy to the exact event itself. How can one hold back their frustrations?

Though each episode claims to be a “dramatization of actual events,” as far as I can tell, the show remains pretty close to the actual events and how they are depicted. I love a good true crime series, and this one was overall no exception. In particular, the first few episodes are rather addicting as Candy and Allan turn from playful with one another to sexual. They are forced to hide their relationship, prioritizing the ones they have. They set rules not to get too emotionally involved, but when has that ever worked? Plemons and Olsen at least portray their characters and flawed and complicated rather than manipulative and murderous.

An opening credits set to Nina Simone’s classic “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” wonderfully sets the tone, each ominous piece of imagery warning of what will come. Aside from the credits, graphic dialogue here and there, and a rather strong, impactful climax, Love & Death may find itself lost in the shuffle amongst the never-ending flood of powerful limited series. Nevertheless, it’s certainly an easy watch and easy recommend at only seven episodes in length. The jury is still out on whether or not it’s any better or worse than Candy; Rabe and Olsen certainly make sure that their depictions of these people are not going to vanish from one’s memory anytime soon. Lizzie Borden, however, this is not.

The first three episodes of Love & Death chop their way exclusively to HBO Max on Thursday, April 27th, followed by a new episode each week. 

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