I’m the first to admit I have a bizarre taste in movies and TV. If I were pretentious I’d call it eclectic. I like to call a spade a spade, so I’ll just have to say my viewing choices can be quite weird.
I’ll enjoy a rom-com as much as a horror flick, I love a good thriller but can’t stand sci-fi, most comedies bore me to tears but I’ve been known to laugh my ass off watching several ill-received specimens. I’m a sucker for teen movies despite being well past that age, but I find cartoons and animated movies completely boring. I adore Tarantino, I will often flat-out refuse to watch a film that’s widely accepted as a masterpiece because I can’t stand the lead actor, I don’t like period pieces but will re-watch corny 80’s and 90’s movies over and over again.
My TV preferences aren’t less unorthodox: I love me a good procedural even though it’s basically as repetitive as it gets, I love to hate Shonda Rhimes, I love courtroom dramas and everything remotely legal-esque (although that’s probably just my subconscious telliing me I should have heeded my parents’ advice to follow in their footsteps and become an attorney). I watch just about every cooking show I can get my hands on, including cooking and baking competitions, but otherwise abhor reality tv. I will readily admit to my not-so-guilty pleasure of watching grown men in ridiculous costumes fake-beating each other up, and I’ll watch and re-watch my favorite shows instead of picking up new ones.
What most of my favorite TV content has in common is the fact that it’s pretty universally considered mainstream. I’m not usually one to seek out obscure material. If something is labeled as ‘independent’, I usually stay away. The only indie thing that doesn’t normally make me cringe is 90’s music.
This was the case with Rectify, my only criterion being that it’s shown on the Sundance network.
But then I watched the pilot…. and devoured the first three seasons within a couple of days. Yes, it’s that good. It’s also like no other show I’ve watched before.
The plot isn’t the most original story ever told: Daniel Holden, a death row convict who’s spent 19 years in jail on rape and murder charges gets out when new evidence comes to light, but is neither acquitted nor welcomed with open arms back into the community of the small Georgia town he’s from. He was incarcerated at age 18, which means he’s spent his entire adult life not only behind bars, but in near isolation. His only friends during his time inside were his books, and a fellow inmate who was eventually put to death. His only real ally on the outside was his younger sister Amantha, who fought tooth and nail to get him proper representation.
When he gets out, he’s faced with a world much different to what he left behind; his mother, distant to begin with, is remarried. He has a younger brother, and a new adopted brother and sister-in-law. With very few exceptions, the entire town treats him with suspicion; the sheriff and former prosecutor are downright hostile. He has trouble coming to terms with even the simplest things, like being able to walk on the grass and see the stars, work a DVD player or drive a car.
But the brilliance of the show lies not on depicting the day-to-day struggles of Daniel and his family, but on the performances and the writing. It’s esoteric, but manages to convey a multitude of emotions on a single look, phrase or even camera shot. The characters hardly ever say what you’d expect them to. For the longest time, the show cleverly keeps you wondering whether Daniel was in fact guilty of the crime he was convicted for. Everything about him is slightly off kilter, and you end up loving him for it even as it alienates the townsfolk and his own family. And all of it happens slowly, sometimes excruciatingly so, without ever leaving the viewer with a sense of boredom or the urgency to hurry things along.
Even more impressive is how each character is handled. If Daniel is indeed innocent, he has suffered through his sentence and subsequent ‘rehabilitation’ into the community without the cliché air of martyrdom. His time on death row has taken it obvious toll on him, but the only flashbacks to his time in prison serve to give us insight into his mind. We’re almost oblivious as to how his plight has affected his family, until he finally reunites with them. The tension rarely builds up to actual conflict, but is rather kept in the background, driving the characters without dominating them. Everything is masterfully subtle, and even the dialogue is cryptic enough to keep you guessing. No scene is mere filler; every element has its purpose, every nuance has its payoff. And yet it never comes off as pretentious.
I couldn’t praise this show enough; if a slow burn is not your thing – it usually isn’t mine – I’d still urge you to give it a shot.