The pilot for Sundance’s first original series shows that the longform serial drama continues to be developed in new places. This format, when done right, can pull together the best qualities of TV and film. Rectify’s series pilot, both hours written by creator Ray McKinnon, leaned a little more towards the cinematic. This worked well, given the need to introduce a large cast and complicated, as well as completely novel, circumstances. And there are more complexities to come, I’m sure.
Daniel Holden returns home after 19 years, going back to live in the home he grew up in. He was away because he was convicted, then exonerated, of rape & murder of his teenage girlfriend. A large component of Daniel’s character [and the series] is his new challenge to cope with (and ‘rectify’) this 19 year gap. He has close family and new family that he must learn to relate to and communicate with in a ‘normal’ manner. One of the other conflicts in the series is Daniel’s freedom and/or prosecution; it looks like the case will be reopened.
In regard to the 19 year gap, there are some powerful moments where we see Daniel learning about the new world. Not only is he, in many ways, still 18, but the world outside him has changed greatly. The local Dollar Store has expanded- a ‘point of interest’ to Daniel’s family, meaning ‘this here’s a small town, and not much really changes.’ But Daniel is re-connecting with human experience on a simple yet stronger level. He’s more interested in basic natural elements, like the feeling of laying on grass or hearing thunder. And there are a few insightful moments where Daniel encounters elements of his new world – like how he didn’t remember people eating as much as they do now. They did not spend too much time showing Daniel grappling new with technology. He was able to read books in prison, so it does make sense that he understands a lot about how things work, at least in a heady, ‘I’ve read about it,’ sense.
Daniel’s issues relating to his new world, at this point, are not dissimilar to many other ‘fish out of water’ conflicts. However I give credit to Ray McKinnon for having one of his characters call him Starman right in the pilot. I was noticing how much the mild, distant, demeanor of Daniel resembled that of Jeff Bridges’ character. To me, referencing that character in the pilot said to me, “Yeah, we know he’s like Starman and other space guys trying to interact in normal American life. Our guy (Daniel) is going to grow and become something totally different.. just you wait.” And I’m confident that that is what will indeed happen.
The overall tone of the series has, appropriately, a very indie feel, not necessarily the low budget kind, but there’s a sense that this is tv made by filmmakers.
The pilot could have been 90 minutes, which would have compressed the scenes and moved the developments along, but, giving respect to this series’ cinematic quality, one of the things that makes this ‘tv show’ different, I can not say that this pilot should have been 90 minutes. I think the drama and complexity will build, maybe not rapidly, but heavily, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing where this series takes us. High-quality longform drama has worked well for smaller, series destination networks, namely AMC. Rectify’s pilot is a great first move for Sundance to create high quality original programming of its own.