“Love You Like A Sister” gets Hightown off to a strong start, with Monica Raymund the dynamite lead in a slick, stylish murder-mystery.
This recap of Hightown (Starz) season 1, episode 1, “Love You Like A Sister”, contains spoilers.
Hightown (Starz) is executive-produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, the human manifestation of glossy 90s blockbusters and procedural TV, and you can’t half tell. It sports all the hallmarks of the period, both the slick aesthetic sheen and the formulaic structure, but being on the reliably provocative Starz platform, it’s also a bit more sexually adventurous than that era’s mainstream output tended to be. This is perhaps just as well, since, at least so far as Hightown Episode 1, “Love You Like A Sister”, its story of a promiscuous “gold star lesbian” in a very loose interpretation of recovery is much more engaging than its relatively by-the-numbers murder-mystery plot.
That murder-mystery, for what it’s worth, concerns Sherry Henry (Masha King), a young opioid addict whose body washes up in the bay of Provincetown, Massachusetts and is stumbled upon quite randomly by National Marine Fisheries Service agent Jackie Quinones (Monica Raymund) after a night of hard partying. Sherry, it turns out, was an informant of Ray Abruzzo (James Badge Dale), an interagency drug cop who, along with his partner Alan Saintille (Dohn Norwood), has jurisdiction over the investigation. She also has a former addict best friend, Krista (Crystal Lake Evans), and was killed for meddling in the affairs of incarcerated drugs kingpin Frankie Cuevas (Amaury Nolasco, Prison Break’s Fernando Sucre in a much less cuddly role). Frankie has a stripper wife, Renee (Riley Voelkel), whom Ray threatens in the opener in that typical cop-who-doesn’t-play-by-the-rules kind of way.
I’ve frontloaded all that detail in one paragraph because it is, in large part, all the plot that Hightown Episode 1 churns through. It’s a simple setup and the show’s confident in it, but it’s also in no rush to speed through it, keeping the investigation at arm’s length from a more personal story of Jackie attempting sobriety after the haunting discovery of Sherry’s corpse and the emotional rigors of her own investigation into the killing. Rather than being disparate, these elements actually complement each other to an extent that I was pleasantly surprised by. The show attempts to be both a crime procedural and a character-driven story of addiction, recovery, and relapse, and at least thus far it manages to convincingly be both of those things, even if it’s better at being the latter.
This is all helped along by two things. The first is a sense of place evoked by the industrious seaside attractions of a setting couched entirely in the perspective of the locals trying to make a living there; Provincetown is shot and moved through and talked about in such a way that it feels immediately lived-in, as familiar and recognizable to the audience as whatever community they themselves belong to. The rich details and idiosyncrasies of such a place are as important in terms of how they might inform a murder as how they might inform the day-to-day life of a fisherman or a tourist who can taste the salty air.
The second thing is Monica Raymund doing utterly captivating work as Jackie. In a show that otherwise embraces tradition, she stands apart, an atypical lead and a well-rounded personality brought to life expertly. There’s a fair amount to like about Hightown thus far, but if I had to pick a single reason to recommend it, it’d be her. Let’s see if the rest of the show catches up.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.