It wasn't until I had blown through all of Breaking Bad, Louie, True Detective and Mad Men that I knew I needed help. How many times could I watch Aziz Ansari's standup specials or re-watch John Mulaney's New In Town and laugh at the same jokes all over again?
I needed something new. And after a friend recommended three lesser-known shows to watch, I found that only one -- Rectify -- was streaming on Netflix. So that was that.
Rectify is like the moody art-school sister of True Detective, the elegant, lyrical aunt of The Killing; the perfect combination of drama, suspense, doubt and dysfunction.
Here's the backstory: Daniel Holden (played by the impressive Aden Young) was convicted of raping and killing his high school girlfriend 19 years ago. He even confessed. But after spending nearly two decades on death row, Holden is released when new DNA evidence does not tie him to the murder.
He has never seen a cell phone or a laptop and isn't familiar with the new members of his now blended family. He moves home with his mother and stepfather, but many skeptics in the small Georgia town are outraged that a killer has been freed. It is a media frenzy. This is where episode one begins.
The show was originally developed at AMC but Sundance later swooped in -- and it doesn't look like they're sorry. Yesterday Sundance announced that the show will be renewed for a third season, and since no one I've talked to even knows what it is, I'm going to list 7 reasons why Rectify is my favorite underrated show on TV:
1. The fact that we don't know whether Daniel did it or not.
Sure, he confessed. But as the series builds, suspicions about other guys there on the night of the murder come into play, as well as suggestions that the police might have coerced Daniel into a confession. The possibility of drugs having been involved also adds to our questioning of what happened that night. But on the other hand, Holden is a real weird guy. He insists that he's a bad person on more than one occasion and we don't know if his weirdness can totally be pinned to the fact that he's been alone on death row for the last 19 years.
2. The cinematography.
Rectify is stunning. Every shot. The camera dances with a blade of grass or the breeze blowing through someone's hair. We notice the laugh lines on an exhausted face or the way dust moves through a parking lot. The moodiness of Rectify is one of its strongest features and the brilliant cinematography stands out from the very first moment. It might be a testament to the show's beauty that I actually watch the opening credits every single time. The LA Times called it "television as prose poem."
3. The complexities of family.
Since Daniel was put away, his father died and his mother remarried. A stepbrother and eventually his wife became part of the family. His mother and her new husband also had a son, so Daniel comes home to a teenaged half-brother, as well. The family has expanded since he left and moving back into his childhood home with new people in it is jarring. Daniel's mother is a wonderful mosaic of pain, confusion, joy and fear. Her son is finally home but no one exactly knows how to act.
Daniel's stepbrother Teddy is terrifying in his unpredictability and I do not take my eyes off of him when he's on screen. He could break down or attack at any moment. But the love in the family is deeply noted as eight family members try to gently sew back together a fabric that is thin and frayed. You can't help but root for each of them.
4. Abigail Spencer.
Abigail Spencer, who plays Daniel Holden's angsty, stubborn and powerfully loving sister Amantha, is the one who fought hardest for her brother's freedom. She is the glue. You might recognize her from her arc on Mad Men or from the upcoming star-stuffed This Is Where I Leave You. In fact, she has five films in post-production and is filming another. Her talent for subtlety is most aptly displayed in the short film she made with real-life boyfriend Josh Pence about a couple bitterly breaking up. Neither of them speaks a word of dialogue.
But Spencer most impressively plays the role of what could be a clichéd loving sister on Rectify with layers of neuroses, insecurity and even anger. If Daniel Holden is the firefly, his sister Amantha is the light.
5. The constant sense of danger.
Even though Daniel has been released from prison for now, he is by no means exonerated. The lawyer who made his career on putting him away is running for office and does not want to see Daniel free for even a day longer. The family of the murdered girl wants justice. As Daniel tries to function in a world he's missed out on for 19 years, many people in the town want to see him dead. Every street corner and knock on the door is infused with danger and dread. He is never safe but he also never seems to fully understand that.
6. The South.
Much like True Detective, the southern setting of Rectify stands out as a character all on its own. Shot in Griffin, Georgia, the show relies on the sprawling fields and open pastures, the drama of the big shady trees and the isolation of the open roads. Atlanta is not far away, but this story is steeped in the smallness of the town and its secrets; in all the prejudgments and the stories that have been whispered down from family to family and from grade to grade.
7. Imagining what freedom would be like after 19 years on death row.
Daniel is a foreigner in his new world. He moves around like a ghost and has lost sight of how to read social cues. He is equal parts wonder and darkness and it is confusing not knowing if he is guilty or not.
But watching him recalibrate to the modern world is mesmerizing -- him picking through the attic and finding his Walkman and mixtapes from high school. Sitting in a bathtub staring out at nothing. Shots of him riding a bike for the first time in 19 years. Or sitting in the middle of a field eating junk food that he bought at a convenience store. Daniel forgets to check his cell phone and his family worries. Neighbors who do not support his being out of prison come after him. He is a specimen in a test tube and we are all looking in. In fact, everything and everyone swirling around that test tube is stunning and heartbreaking all at once and it is impossible to look away.
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