Sundance Channel has a Slow-Burning but Excellent Contemplative Drama in "Rectify" Review

Tensions are mounting in the small town of Paulie, Georgia as a convicted rapist and murderer is being released from death row after almost two decades of imprisonment. Due to new developments in DNA evidence, his sentence is vacated—although a new investigation is inevitable. Such is the jumping-off point that creator Ray McKinnon used for the series Rectify to tell a story about a man who has lived in a box and must suddenly face the world around him. Certainly an intriguing premise for a character study, but how well does it translate into a television series?

The series begins with Daniel Holden’s (Aden Young) release. After 19 years of waiting for his inevitable death, Daniel is overwhelmed by this new world he’s being thrown into. His family, too, is overwhelmed by his release, altering their dynamics. His sister Amantha (Abigail Spencer) has always believed him to be innocent, and his release refuels her need for justice. His mother Janet (J. Smith-Cameron) is relieved to see her boy again but is unsure of how he fits into her new life (she remarried while he was in prison after the death of his father). His stepbrother Ted Jr. (Clayne Crawford) is distrustful of Daniel, ready to manipulate anyone (and everyone) against him. And Ted Jr.’s hyper-religious wife Tawney (Adelaide Clemens) is fascinated by Daniel and the challenge of converting him to the Lord.

Lurking in the background of the season is the legal battle regarding Daniel. Amantha enlists the help of the lawyer Jon Stern (Luke Kirby) whom she has been sleeping with. Daniel’s greatest adversary is Roland Foulkes (Michael O’Neill) who was the prosecutor on the original case and has since become a state senator. He is the first to inform the public that just because Daniel is being released does not mean that he is innocent. This helps fuel the prejudiced people of Paulie, increasing their bullying torment towards Daniel and his family.

However, Daniel appears to care very little about his legal concerns. Curiosity drives him as he discovers new things in technology and life that have been developed while he lived inside that “box.” His half-brother Jared (Jake Austin Walker) gives him a DVD player and selects appropriate films to catch him up on pop culture. He also spends a lot of time sitting around staring at the sky or out of windows.

As he stares off into the distance, we get flashbacks to his life on death row. Despite being isolated in a starkly white cell, he makes friends with his neighbor inmate while also making enemies with his other inmate neighbor. The flashbacks occur infrequently throughout the season and lack a chronology, making them frequently disorienting. However, they prove to be some of the more engaging scenes in the series, if only for the implications made about Daniel. For, in these scenes, he appears to be more alive and engaged than in his real-world scenes.

Of course, being alive and engaged does not seem like McKinnon’s goal for Rectify. Whole episodes (of which there are only six) are designated for contemplative shots of the cast, foregoing any sense of plot development. In fact, the storytelling in the middle episodes feels so slow (almost nonexistent) that the first and final episodes feel action-packed. (The final ten minutes of the season most certainly is.)

Rectify is most certainly a moody series about rural life in the South. (Its slow pacing and anti-hero protagonist are indicative of AMC shows, the channel for which it was originally developed before finding a home on The Sundance Channel.) The small-town community is an integral character to the story, affecting much of what antagonizes the central family. Fortunately, the acting is engaging enough to keep you at least mildly interested in what is happening on screen. For all of his contemplating, Young does a wonderful job of making Daniel the most interesting character on screen. You like him even though you suspect him of being guilty and yearn for him to prove his innocence. It’s a great dynamic for the slow-paced series and its most redeeming quality. Redeeming enough that I’ll be tuning in for the second season.

DVD Bonus Features

There are a slew of promotional behind-the-scenes featurettes focused on various aspects of the show: production, characters, etc. And interviews with Ray McKinnon serve as light commentary for each of the episodes. 

"Rectify: Season One" is on sale June 18, 2013 and is not rated. Drama. Directed by Bill Gierhart, Jim Mckay, Keith Gordon, Nicole Kassell, Ray Mckinnon, Romeo Tirone. Written by Ray McKinnon, Graham Gordy, Michael D. Fuller. Starring Abigail Spencer, Adelaide Clemens, Aden Young, Clayne Crawford, J Smith Cameron, Luke Kirby.

Jul
02
2013
John Keith • Staff Writer

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