April 22, 2013



RECTIFY:  Monday 10PM on Sundance Channel (2-hour premiere at 9PM on April 22)

Taking a leaf from the Hollywood studio playbook, Sundance Channel is promoting its new series RECTIFY as being “from the producers of Breaking Bad,” and it’s even airing reruns of the AMC series alongside Rectify episodes to reinforce the connection.  While technically accurate as to some of the show’s executive producers, this all misleadingly implies that Vince Gilligan–the only Breaking Bad producer who really counts–is involved, which he isn’t.  The point being that this may not be a smart long-term strategy, since fans of Breaking Bad are in for a big disappointment when they see what a low-key, contemplative drama Rectify is, at least in its initial 2 hours.

Rectify is in fact Sundance’s first original series (albeit with a short 6-episode order), and if the idea was to duplicate the feel of the films that typically play in the Sundance Film Festival’s Narrative Competition each year, mission accomplished.  (Series creator Ray McKinnon had his own Chrystal at the Festival in 2004.)  The series is deliberately paced, sometimes to the point of near-somnolence, and laced with the kind of small-town dysfunctional family dynamics that drive many a Sundance title.

The premise is dramatic enough.  After 19 years on death row for a brutal rape-murder, Daniel Holden (Aden Young) is freed from prison when the DNA of semen found on the victim is proven not to be his.  That’s enough to vacate the verdict against him, although it doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s completely innocent, since the woman was attacked by several men and Daniel–who gave the police what may have been a coerced confession–could theoretically still have been one of them.  The local law enforcement authorities, led by the distasteful Roland Foulkes (Michael O’Neill), the DA who originally prosecuted Daniel and now a US Senator, are pushing to put him back on trial.  For now, though, Daniel is slowly coming to grips with a world that suddenly has flat-screen TVs, supermarket scanners and SmartWater, after almost two decades of living in a windowless box and surviving the worst kinds of abuse.

Daniel, who was a teenager when he was arrested, moves back into the house of his mother Janet (J. Smith-Cameron), who remarried Ted Talbot (Bruce McKinnon) after Daniel’s father’s death.  Ted is a decent guy who’s ready to welcome Daniel into what had been his father’s family business, even though he knows having Daniel there may drive some customers away.  However, Ted Jr (Clayne Crawford), who works with his father, is the family baddie, selfishly concerned only with what Daniel’s return will mean for him, and also an insensitive husband to sweet, spiritual Tawney (Adelaide Clemens, recently seen in HBO/BBC’s Parade’s End).  Janet and Ted’s son Jared (Jake Austin Walker), meanwhile, is charmingly eager to get to know his half-brother.  Daniel’s most fervent supporter is his sister Amantha (Abigail Spencer, the strongest presence in the show), who has quietly been carrying on a relationship with Daniel’s lawyer Jon Stern (Luke Kirby).

Eventually, Rectify may deal with the question of who committed the murder for which Daniel was convicted.  (A single violent act that occurs at the end of the first hour suggests that there’s a story to be told.)  In the early going, though (both hours are written by McKinnon, with Hour 1 directed by Keith Gordon and Hour 2 by Billy Gierhart), it’s far more concerned with Daniel’s re-entry into his family and contemporary life.  Young is very good as Daniel, but his extreme stolidity, while it makes sense as the defense mechanism Daniel adopted during his years in prison, sometimes makes him seem like Forrest Gump.  Ted Jr, along with the Senator and the local Sheriff, are a collection of thinly-defined weasels, and Tawney is an idealized figure of purity, mistreated by her boorish husband.  A story that’s going to be told this slowly needs multiple layers of characterization to be pulled back, and so far there’s little indication of that in Rectify.

Although its marketing campaign suggests second thoughts on the subject, Sundance certainly didn’t take the easy road by starting its original content with Rectify, a drama so hushed and serious that it courts dreariness.  It’s made with a good deal of compassion and moody atmosphere, and it deserves some patience to discover if it simply has a slow-burning fuse that will lead to more compelling storytelling down the road.  Bear in mind, though, that Sundance’s Narrative Competition films are notorious for taking audiences to the very brink of apparent revelation… and then stopping short.  That would be a risky model to follow here.




About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."