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Spring 2014 Review: The Red Road

12 Mar

The Red Road

First impression: The Red Road is a drab, depressing show.  There are not a lot of laughs to be found, I’m warning viewers outright.

Well, let’s get into a little more detail than that. From the pilot, The Red Road seems like something of a two hander. Kiwi Martin Henderson plays Harold Jensen, a cop in a small town in exurban New Jersey right by the New York border with a large Indian population. He’s got two teenage daughters and a wife. His wife, Jean (Julianne Nicholson of Masters of Sex) is a newly sober recovering alcoholic and struggling tremendously, flying off the handle at all sorts of stressors. His older daughter Rachel is hooking up with an Indian named Junior, and that in particular is driving Jean, who has some sort of tragic history herself with a high school love affair with a local Indian, up a wall.

Philip , our other protagonist, is a half-Indian who is clearly a member of the criminal element. He’s done some time and he’s apparently now working for his criminal father who lives in New York City and is involved in, well, it’s unclear the extent of his criminal activity, but certainly drugs at the very least. His significantly younger brother is Junior, the boy Rachel is keen on. We learn early on in the episode that some teenage kid from NYC who was dropped off in this town has gone missing and we’re led to believe that Philip had a hand in, or at the least knows about and is covering up, the circumstances behind the kid’s death.

How are these two men from opposite sides of the law connected? Well that slowly comes together over the course the episode. Jean’s bad experience with her own Indian sweetheart growing up somehow led to the death of her brother. Thus she holds what seems to me an incredibly unreasonable prejudice against all Indians, but maybe it’s more particular to this tribe or this family and I just missed that. Unraveling and apparently drunk again she steals her husband’s gun and takes her SUV to hunt down Junior and threaten him if not more. She never finds them, but runs over someone while driving drunk.

Philip calls Harold and sets up a meet. It turns out that Phillip was the man Jean had an affair that went bad with. He also happens to know that Jean was in the car, and he knows some Indians who witnessed the crash. He offers, surely not out of the kindness of his heart, to make sure the witnesses make the right statements. Harold is obviously uncomfortable with the arrangement, but is in a bit of a bind, and seems willing to get ethically dubious to keep his wife out of trouble and likely prison. Thus, the two embark together, I suppose upon the titular red road, which I assume is red because of blood, but it could be clay, or I don’t know, ketchup.

Okay, that was a longer summary that I originally intended. The show is certainly not a fun ride; it’s depressing, and everyone’s pretty hard to root for. Even Harold, the ostensible good guy who would be the obvious candidate to root for, comes off as unlikable when he threatens to kill Junior if he ever goes near his daughter again. Overreaction, much?

It’s a serious show, both in that it attempts to be serious, compelling television, and that is simply incredibly serious in tone, as in implying an utter lack of lightness.  It’s a little be oppressive to watch a full hour of at once. While I didn’t know where the show was going for the vast majority of the episode, the uneasy partnership between Philip and Harold did make me a little more intrigued. It felt like a potentially interesting avenue to travel on, albeit one that probably holds nothing but terrible things for everyone involved.

I’m honestly not sure if there’s something here after one episode. There are some good ideas, and I have a higher tolerance for depressing television than most.   I’m willing to extend my leash somewhat especially since the real crux of the premise, that these two are going to have to work together in spite of having nothing in common with each other, only came out in the last couple of minutes of the show and I still may need some more time to discover what I’m getting into. The fact that I’m curious is promising; I’m not dismissing it out of hand and I think I want to know more before making a decision.

Most shows are easy to discard after one episode with no regrets. Another subgroup are so compelling that I’d sign up for a full season right away. In the middle are those that require two, three, four episodes to really suss out if they’re worth watching. The Red Road falls in this class.

Will I watch it again? Maybe. That’s a cop out – I’ll say yes just because I feel I should say yes or no, but the fact that I’m deliberating here tells you about what I think of the show.