“Rectify” is Sundance Channel’s first ever original scripted drama series, and as such arrives with the burden of needing to justify the network’s foray into the field while living up to the Sundance brand. The good news is that this contemplative, utterly engrossing and frequently gorgeous character study achieves and then surpasses both of those goals over the course of its initial six episode season.
The pacing of the storytelling — which has more in common with a film by Terrence Malick than anything else on TV today — is resolutely cinematic, and not all audiences will embrace that from the traditionally less challenging medium of TV. Consider it the next evolution in bridging the gap between TV and art cinema that began with HBO and AMC’s more highbrow efforts.
If you’re already thinking “that doesn’t sound like a show for me,” you’re probably right. But if you’re a fan of “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” “The Wire,” “The Sopranos,” “Six Feet Under,” et al. and the artistic potential of television, you won’t want to miss it.
“Rectify” follows former Death Row inmate Daniel Holden (Aden Young) as he attempts to readjust to life in small town Georgia after 18 years in prison. Everyone in the area knows who he is, and where he’s been — and the experiences that he’s endured on the inside have left him a permanently changed man.
Daniel’s release was made possible by his free-spirited sister Amantha (Abigail Spencer), who teamed up with crusading attorney Jon Stern (Luke Kirby) to force the court to consider new DNA evidence. Amantha is convinced of Daniel’s innocence but others — including his stepbrother Ted (Clayne Crawford) — aren’t so sure.
As Daniel tries to get back on his feet, he also finds support from Ted’s pretty young born again Christian wife Tawney (Adelaide Clemens), a teenage brother he barely knows named Jared (Jake Austin Walker) and his mother Janet (J. Smith-Cameron).
Each episode of “Rectify” unfolds like a new chapter in a richly engrossing novel, fleshing out these characters with fascinating precision, and giving every member of the supporting cast a chance to shine. While the pilot is especially slow to start — and Young’s unusual performance choices take some time to adjust to — subsequent episodes fly by as they draw viewers into the finely detailed world the characters live in. And while the show was likely made on a relatively low budget by TV standards, every episode is beautifully shot and filmed by top directors accustomed to straddling the line between TV and indie films including Keith Gordon, Nicole Kassell, Jim McKay and Billy Gierhart.
“Rectify” was created by actor and writer Ray McKinnon (“Sons of Anarchy,” “Deadwood”) who runs the show with the same feel for open-hearted, clear-eyed Southern storytelling seen in recent films by David Gordon Green (“All the Real Girls”), Jeff Nichols (“Take Shelter”) and Phil Morrison (“Junebug”).
Six episodes isn’t much to ask viewers to commit to, and hopefully Sundance already has an audience primed to take the leap following Jane Campion’s recently completed miniseries “Top of the Lake.” “Rectify” deserves to be discovered.