By Paula Hendrickson
A quiet little gem of a series debuted last week on Sundance Channel. It’s the network’s first wholly-owned original scripted series, but to bring it to as many viewers as possible, an encore presentation of the premiere also aired on its sister network, AMC, after Mad Men last week.
Recitfy — a six-episode series from the producers of Breaking Bad — is just one piece of Sundance’s move toward more original scripted programming. Earlier this spring, Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss starred in Sundance’s much-lauded mini-series, Top of the Lake, and in December, Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery starred in the network’s TV movie, Restless.
The slow pace of Rectify is mesmerizing and befits its setting — a small town in Georgia — and its main character, Daniel Holden (Aden Young), who emerges from prison with little concept of time.
The series opens with Daniel being released from prison after new DNA evidence raises questions about the crime he was convicted of as a teen-ager, the murder of his girlfriend. During his 19 years on death row, Daniel developed his own coping mechanisms and appears very Zen and peaceful, considering he’s spent half his life in prison. Although he’s free, for now, he has not been exonerated.
Initially, one gets the impression that even before prison Daniel may have been an inscrutable introvert, somewhat out of step with those around him. His sister, Amantha (Abigail Spencer), is the only person who seems to get him and really feel comfortable around him.
Daniel isn’t the only person making adjustments. The stepbrother he never met, Teddy Jr. (Clayne Crawford), feels threatened, thinking not only that Daniel might be guilty of the murder, but may try to usurp him at the family business. It probably doesn’t help the relationship when Teddy asks Daniel about what it was really like in prison and hears more than he wanted to know. Or that Teddy gets jealous when his wife (Adelaide Clemens) tries to befriend Daniel.
Perhaps more importantly, the town itself is reeling from Daniel’s release. The current senator (Michael O’Neill) who prosecuted the case 20 years ago wants to pull every string he can to have Daniel locked back up. The sheriff (J.D. Evermore) stalks Daniel. Any townsfolk who don’t already believe he’s guilty now live in fear wondering who the real killer might be.
Recitfy is full of small moments full of great impact: Silent tears flowing when Daniel’s mother (J. Smith-Cameron) hugs him for the first time; the awe of seeing the sun rise after 19 years without a window; watching Dazed and Confused with his teen-age half-brother, Jared (Jake Austin Walker); or just soaking in a hot bath. Daniel is such a quiet character it always leaves viewers wondering what he’s thinking. How does the world look through his eyes? What hasn’t changed during the two decades he was gone? Will he be able to adapt to freedom? How will his case eventually be resolved?
If you missed Recitfy’s two-hour premiere and don’t have OnDemand, you can still view it at sundancechannel.com.
Rectify airs 9 p.m. (Central) Mondays on Sundance Channel.
Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to email@example.com.
From the May 1-7, 2013, issue