We are in a golden age of television. We are also in an age of excess. As such, we often have to pick and choose what we watch, because we simply don’t have enough time to watch everything that is good. Unfortunately, that means that a lot of great shows slip through the cracks. As a fan of television, who watches much more TV than the regular person, I am always sad to see some of the best shows slip so far beneath the radar that they become obscure and unknown. In an effort to improve the standing of some of these “lost” shows, I have decided to create Spotlight, a new Feature Article series at TVEnthusiast. Spotlight will be a regular series that, with each iteration, pleads the case of a different series that has somehow slipped beneath the radar of our collective attention.
Simply put, Rectify is one of the best shows currently on TV. The series fully deserves a seat among shows like Hannibal, Game of Thrones, and Better Call Saul. Somehow, this series has slipped so far beneath the radar that even many TV super fans have become completely ignorant to the shows very existence. What is Rectify? Is it really that good? Why has it slipped beneath the radar? These are the questions I hope to answer in this edition of Spotlight.
What is Rectify?
Rectify tells the story of Daniel Holden, a troubled man who spent nearly 20 years on Death Row after being convicted of raping and murdering a teenage girl. When the series begins, Daniel’s sentence has been vacated, due to new DNA evidence. While he is now free, he must live with the looming threat of a return to prison, as his case is not yet over. Daniel returns to his family home, where his mother has remarried, he has a new step-father, a new step-brother, and even a younger half-brother. At home, Daniel has the support of his sister Amantha who fought so hard, for so long, to clear her brother, and the love of his mother, who wants to support him as best she can, but struggles with how best to be there for him. On the other hand, his new step-brother, Teddy, is suspicious of Daniel, and protective of his family from what he feels could be a threat.
Away from home, Daniel must face the conflicted small town he has returned to, a town that was home to not only Daniel, but Hanna, his alleged victim. Hanna’s family still lives in town, as do many others who knew both Daniel and Hanna before her passing. Some people in town believe in Daniel, many are unsure, and then there are those who are certain he is guilty. No matter their differing perception of Daniel, they share 1 thing in common, they ALL know exactly who Daniel Holden is. And so, Daniel must navigate an existence in a small town, where everyone knows him, many hate him, and his very presence has acted as blood in the water for the media sharks.
In addition, Daniel must deal with the existence of several conspiracies against him. There is the politician who made his career on Daniel’s conviction, and has a stake in seeing him back behind bars whether he is guilty or not. Then the new DA who is obligated to put Daniel back behind bars, and pressured by small town politics to do so regardless of the truth. There is the Sheriff, not far from Daniel’s age, who doesn’t trust him, and Daniel’s own high school acquaintances who might be hiding something. All of this, plus Daniel himself doesn’t know if he committed the crime or not, as the traumatic events have caused problems with his memory.
What makes Rectify so good?
Overall, I would say it is the writing that makes Rectify so good, but that is only the first thing that comes to mind. The performances are stellar, the locations add a distinctive atmosphere, and the loose structure is uninsulting to the intelligence of its viewers. Daniel is an amazing character. Educated in prison through a large assortment of gifted books, Daniel’s mind is sharp, and his soul is poetic. He often talks around things in a way that can infuriate some, while endearing him to others. Deep down, he is supremely damaged, and dealing with a rough transition back to the outside world after spending more than half of his life on Death Row.
The writing in Rectify is often lyrical and poetic in a way that attracts and endears us to Daniel and his struggles. Sometimes his words work against him, as his anger can lead him to use his wits as a weapon against those who threaten him, often resulting in more anger and aggression from the threatening parties. Aden Young is perfect in the role, giving soulful life to Daniel as he navigates between anger, confusion, disappointment, and sadness. There are few characters in television history with as much soul as Daniel Holden. Performances are strong across the board, though they, by design, act primarily as obstacles and guide posts for Daniel’s character. Outside of Young’s Daniel, I was impressed with Sean Bridgers as the deceptively intelligent Trey Willis, who might just be a far greater monster than Daniel is accused of being. Adelaide Clemens, Abigail Spencer, and J. Smith-Cameron pull out strong performances as 3 very different strong female characters, with Clemens as the religious and damaged Tawney, Spencer as the force of nature that is Amantha, and Smith-Cameron as the perceived to be meek Janet. Together, the 3 may be the only lights in Daniel’s life, the only ones who seem to see him as he is.
Why has Rectify slipped beneath the radar?
This is a question I can not definitively answer. That being said, there is a lot to explore. Rectify is actually well received by critics, but doesn’t get a lot of attention from them. I feel this can be attributed to the slow burn nature of the series. There aren’t many big moments that incur a fervor of discussion, and the series is so generally unknown that encouraging discussion is likely counter intuitive to the needs of the media sources, when so many other great shows serve for better discussion fodder.
The lack of presence in the TV landscape could also be attributed to the show’s network, Sundance, which doesn’t have a strong original programing catalog to support the series like rival networks FX and AMC do. Most of all, I feel that many will be unwilling to give the series a shot because it cannot be presented as anything other than the slow burn series that it is. Audiences are often reluctant to invest in something like that, which can take time to pay off, and with some shows, never does. All of which is sad, because Rectify is already paying off, in spades, and has been since early in the first season.
Should I watch Rectify?
Rectify will not be for everyone. Audiences seeking the thrills of Game of Thrones, the surrealism of Hannibal, or the humor of Better Call Saul won’t find much of that here in Rectify. What Rectify does have in common with all 3 of those shows, however, are the insightful moments between, and intelligent self reflection of, its characters. In that way, Rectify is just as exciting as the other shows I mentioned, only in a less marketable way.
The first 2 Season of Rectify are available to stream on Netflix, and the current 3rd season can be streamed on Sundance’s official website. The season 3 finale aired tonight, Thursday, August 13th on Sundance. A fourth season has already been ordered.
Have you watched Rectify? Are you interested? Let us know in our comments, and stay tuned to TVEnthusiast for more coverage of Rectify, and all of your favorite shows.