Tag Archives: Rectify

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2014 Edition: 15-12

18 Mar

Two comedies, one drama, and one Netflix show that straddles both worlds. Here comes 15 through 12.

Intro here and 43-40 here and 39-36 here and 35-32 here and 31-28 here and 27-24 here and 23-20 here and 19-16 here and one-offs/shows ineligible for the list here.

15. Bob’s Burgers – 2013: 14

Bob's Burgers

Parks and Recreation, which we’ll get to shortly, has often been hailed for being a comedy of nice; people generally like each other and want to help, rather than hurt one another, despite their differences, and it shows. Bob’s Burgers, an animated family show, rather than a workplace live-action comedy, embodies that same concept; the love between the family members runs deep, and no matter the fights and scuffles that occur over the course of an episode, at the end the Belcher family stands by one another. There’s an underlying warmth beneath Bob’s Burgers that never feels forced. Even Louise (the April of the show, though I like Louise much better than April, which is a completely separate issue that I’m not sure I know how to explain offhand) comes around to sticking with her family in the end. Bob’s Burgers is funny, which is important, because it’s a comedy, but even more than funny, Bob’s Burger’s is fun. No current show is more guaranteed to put me in a good mood, or turn my frown upside down, than Bob’s Burgers. I like to watch episodes right before I go to sleep in the hopes that they will transfer to good dreams.

14. Orange is the New Black – 2013: 19

Orange is the New Black

What was once a dirty little secret is now party line; as far as breakout Netflix shows go, Orange is the New Black is better than House of Cards. The second season served up more of what made the first so loveable, women of all stripes and colors and classes, struggling to make it in a prison system that continually beats them down (figuratively always and occasionally literally). The women manage to find ways to work together more than seems possible considering how often the system tries to pit them against one another. This season featured a big bad who was pretty much unredeemable – Vee, who started running heroin into Litchfield. Just about every character outside of Vee, however, is shown from all sides, complex and nuanced, and unlike the first season, even the prison employees get to be shown as not all bad. It’s impressive how many characters Orange is the New Black juggles, making minor characters feel worthy in small but important ways. Pathos is a specialty of Orange is the New Black, and no show vacillates between comedy and drama better, with hilarious moments followed by heart wrenching emotion.

13. Parks and Recreation – 2013: 11

Parks and Recreation

The sixth season was not the best season of Parks and Recreation. It was probably the weakest outside of the first when the show didn’t really know what it was and who its characters were (and maybe parts of the second, where it was still figuring itself out). That said, the fact that even a weaker season of Parks and Recreation can finish this high speaks to the sheer base levels the writers and actors have reached on this show on a season-to-season, episode-to-episode basis. Parks and Recreation is a first-ballot TV Hall-of-Famer. There were certainly signs this season of a show ready for the end, with some plots that felt like retreads of earlier plots (Tom’s Bistro was a poor man’s Rent-a-Swag) and I was ridiculously frustrated with the way the season ended, with Leslie bailed out from making a difficult decision that had been the focus of much of the season. Still, the show is always funny and the characters are so deeply developed by now that the gears move pretty well even when they’re not at their best. The creators and writers know their characters and actors so well that even when I think the plots are a little off, the emotions and the humor aren’t. This isn’t Parks and Recreation’s finest hour, but there’s a reason why Parks & Rec will go down as one of the best sitcoms of all time.

12. Rectify – 2013: 3

Rectify

Rectify’s main contribution to television may be its ability to take slow, deliberate pacing, which is oft cited as a negative for many a show by myself and others, and ingeniously turn it into an asset. Rectify takes its own time and uses it to flesh out how protagonist Daniel Holden, recently released from death row after 20 years in a cell with little human contact, sees his family and the world anew. Daniel struggles to readjust, even as he still faces potential murder charges – the technicality on which he was set free only means the state will have to retry him from scratch. His family struggles equally, welcoming him home, as they want to be there for him, but aren’t sure how, and his return upends their lives. His sister played the most energetic role in freeing him, but is frustrated by her difficulties in getting him out of his shell. His youngest brother barely knew him at all. His stepbrother remains bitter towards him, resentful of how everyone treats a convicted murder as a returning prodigal son, but Rectify even makes sure to show him with humanity. Rectify tells a tale about a subject, and with a view, like no other show on TV, and while that in and of itself doesn’t make a show good, it remains a rare quality and impressive with a show that happens to be as good as Rectify.

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Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2013 Edition: 4-1

14 Feb

Here we are, the final four. Two returnees from last  year’s top four, and two new entrants. All four hour longs. Let’s do it. 4-1.

4. Treme

Let the trombones play

David Simon’s post-Wire paean to post-Katrina New Orleans and the people who live there isn’t The Wire, and I think that’s hurt it in the minds of a lot of people. Tons and tons and tons of people who loved The Wire, many of whom came to The Wire late, refuse to even give Treme a chance. I don’t get it. Someone makes a show that you consider great, and you’re unwilling to even make an effort to watch the first couple of episodes of his next show, especially when it’s critically acclaimed. Well, me telling you to watch it now probably won’t help, but I’ll do it anyway. Treme is sadly over before it’s time, but the final season continued doing everything Treme does so well. While The Wire feels like a story where characters take two steps forward, followed by three steps back, Treme is a little more optimistic; characters take two steps back and three steps forward. There’s plenty of being beaten down by the system, but it turns out David Simon can do hopeful as well as depressing. No one constructs shows that feel more like real life than David Simon, no one constructs more full and inhabited worlds, and no one makes characters that are easier to empathize with and emotions that feel entirely earned. Basically, even though the show is just about people living there lives, there’s really nothing else on TV like it and probably won’t be until the next David Simon show crops up.

3. Rectify

Rectify

The final new spring 2013 drama, three of which made it into the top 10 (what a freshmen class!). Unlike Hannibal or The Americans, Rectify had no problem with originality; I can’t think of any show that was particularly similar to Rectify, in terms of premise and plot. A death row inmate is exonerated after 20 years in prison thanks to DNA evidence, and he tries to fit back in to the real world in a small Georgia town that still believes strongly in his guilt. To say it’s deliberately paced would be an understatement; it makes the early True Detective episodes seem like 24 in comparison. It’s beautiful though, thoughtful, and heartrending. Instead of the deliberate pace being a drain, it’s actually a boon, and the show takes its time to linger and savor; the same way time moves slowly for Daniel, the former inmate, for whom each regular every day experience is new again after 20 years away. Nobody knows how to respond to Daniel; as difficult as it is for him to engage with his family, it’s equally difficult for them to reengage with him. The final scene of the season may have been the most emotional moment I saw watching TV in the entirety of last year.

2. Game of Thrones

In the game of thrones, you win or you die

It’s hard to write these capsules without being a little bit spoil-y but I’ve mostly tried to avoid delivering huge spoilers and I’ll continue to do so here. But I will say no show on TV delivers more shocking moments and huge twists which entirely change the direction of the plot more than Game of Thrones, sometimes turning the entire show on its head. If it was just about plot and aesthetics, Game of Thrones would already be entertaining and a must-watch but there’s so much more. Series author George R.R. Martin, and the writers who translate his work, DB Weiss and David Beinoff, have a talent for creating relatable motivation for almost every character, and making some of the most instantly hatable characters understandable if not likeable. In a world threatened by desperate winter conditions and external threats, Game of Thrones constantly reckons with the nature of power; what are the rules, what are the rights, and what are the responsibilities. The wealthy fight over a throne while the poor struggle merely to survive. Like most great shows, fans can have polarizing opinions about many of the characters and all have credible arguments.

1. Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad, bitch

Well, one last time. Breaking Bad delivered a final season and a finale surely to be considered one of the greatest of all time. Even if not every single moment worked, Breaking Bad simply did so much in eight episodes that the success percentage was still absurdly high, and even the very few decisions I disagreed with, I was able to understand the reasoning behind. Breaking Bad told us right from episode one of the final season that they were done playing it slow and safe, as Walt was on the move after confronting Hank. From there it was a non-stop episode to episode roller coaster ride, which led to one of the rare times where I really felt like I couldn’t wait another week for the next episode, although if each episode had come any faster I might have had a heart attack. The last season was so creative, so much happened, the drama was on such high alert; Breaking Bad went for it in a huge way and won. There are so many many riveting and memorable scenes that there are too many to name, but his phone call with Skyler was maybe the emotional high point of the season, while Ozymandias may go down as one of the best episodes of television of all time. One last salute, Breaking Bad, before I won’t be able to rank you anymore. This is how memorable final seasons are done.

End of Season Report – Rectify, Season 1

17 Jun

Everyone gets ready to eat dinner

Rectify had an excellent first season overall and may have been the best new series from the past year.  In discussing the season, I’d like to start with the end, the powerful and vicious scene that closed Rectify’s debut season.

Few recent television scenes have incensed me with the furor that the last five minutes of the final episode of this season of Rectify did.  A pack of masked small-town middle-aged men descended on main character and freed death row convict Daniel as he visits the grave of the woman he was convicted of murdering and simply beat the living tar out of him.  Daniel, helpless, lies on the grass as blows are rained down on him by the masked men.  One of the men, the older brother of the woman whose gravesite Daniel is lying by, finishes the job by peeing on him.  Rectify had previously shown threats to Daniel by angry townspeople, including a damaged mailbox, but nothing even close to this extent. As I watched Daniel lie doubled over in pain before an ambulance arrived, I wanted to for someone to come and make these guys pay for what they did, legally or extralegally, but they just got back in their cars and went back from whence they came.

This scene triggered such strong emotions largely because so few shows aspire towards the level of realness of Rectify.  Moments in shows like Game of Thrones certainly supply anger and a visceral gut punch, but there’s always a detached perspective of a fantasy world.  Even shows like Breaking Bad take place in our world, but in a heavily stylized version of the world.  Not so with Rectify.  Few shows this side of David Simon truly feel like reality.  Everything in Rectify feels like it could actually happen in our world, a view enhanced by the gentle pacing and the emphasis on seemingly mundane events, like eating pieces of cake and taking trips to the store. Rectify led me to believe that I could drive down I-95 for a day and reach the town from the show, and it’s because of that sense of reality that each blow Daniel took raised my blood pressure and made me want to sock each and every man in masks.

The minimalism of the show also helped increase the power of that scene.  Unlike shows in which episodes routinely feature action and fighting, a punch means something in this world.  Violence isn’t something handed out in every episode.  This beating was an extraordinary event, that stood out starkly from the every day.

This reality is one of the factors that separates Rectify from everything else on television.  The whole season takes only a couple of days, and few shows make so much out of so little plot.  Little emotional moments are at the heart of Rectify, and they consistently hit.  The last scene was so powerful because you come to empathize with the characters.  We don’t yet know what really happened to the girl Daniel allegedly killed, but we do know that Daniel is a man who suffered deeply for two decades and who is honestly trying to face up and reckon with the opportunity for freedom he’s been given.  He still hasn’t quite figured out how to do make that peace, but his attempt at finding it stands in sharp contract to the simple-minded physical violence eye-for-an-eye strategy employed by the punks who beat him.

Flashbacks are difficult to use well, and in the past I’ve called out many shows for unnecessary flashbacks, which I think can be a crutch for exposition or character development best handled in the present.  I absolutely love the flashbacks in Rectify though, which show Daniel’s time in prison.  Daniel interacts primarily with another prisoner in the cell next to his, and their contact seems more free and natural than Daniel’s contact with anyone in the outside world once he gets out. Over time, this one fellow prisoner becomes his link to the remainder of humanity. The last episode features a moving scene in which Daniel’s friend is finally taken to die, and in his last moments finally sees Daniel, after years communicating only by sound, and confidently pronounces that he is sure that Daniel is innocent of murder.  It’s difficult to even imagine the very real plight of being released from prison after twenty years. At least in regular prison there’s at least a yard and some connection with the outside world, unlike death row.  Daniel has been in a box for twenty years, which has to have a huge effect on his ability to communicate with people who haven’t been.

People don’t know how to react around Daniel, and that difficult to bear awkwardness comes right through the screen.  People expect him to have trouble adjusting, but to have less trouble than he actually does, and to get over it real fast.  They project what they imagine twenty years in prison must be like onto him, even though it’s absolutely impossible for them to really understand. When he doesn’t sound unabashedly enthusiastic to be out of prison, people think he must be guilty.  He’s so haunted by the idea that he might be guilty that he’s convinced himself, over the years, that he’s not even sure what happened.  The difficulty that even simple person to person interaction poses Daniel is beautifully rendered and can be difficult to watch and enthralling at the same time.

As mentioned above, it’s often the little moments that really make Rectify stand out.  My favorite of the season was Daniel playing Sonic on Sega Genesis and rocking out to Cracker in the attic, dancing around in the way people only do if there’s no one else around.  It’s one of the few moments in the season where Daniel seems to be actually enjoying himself, appreciating the moment without the heavy emotional burden that every personal contact seems to take on him.  For a couple of minutes at least, Daniel can relax and really appreciate being free.

Spring 2013 Review: Rectify

29 Apr

Rectify ItHoly shit, a show about something different.  And it’s good!  Rectify is the story of a man exonerated from death row twenty years after being convicted of murdering a woman, when he was in high school.  Daniel was convicted, sentenced to die, and thanks to some new DNA evidence and the dogged work of his family and attorney, he’s being set free.  Twenty years in prison, in solitary confinement without even a window is a long time, and the adjustment is obviously difficult both for Daniel, and for his family, who have lived the past two decades without him and aren’t sure how to reintegrate him back into the family even though they want to, or at least some of the family does.  The family includes his mother, who is happy but doesn’t know how to behave, his sister, who is most enthusiastic and did most of the leg work, and his brother, now a teenager who is trying his best to get to know the brother he’s never met.  It always includes the step-dad his mom is married to now, his step brother, who isn’t a big fan of Daniel, and more relevantly, is concerned  his notoriety will sink the family business, an independent tire store started by Daniel’s real dad, and his step brother’s wife, who is religious, innocent, and more enamored with Daniel than her husband.  These difficulties  are compounded by the fact that this is the small town south (Georgia) and everyone knows everyone and a large number of those people, fancy schmancy legal terms or not, still think he did it and that he’s guilty as sin.  They’ll go through any trouble to make his life hell on Earth if he can’t be put into hell underground.

Now, just in case you worry it’s too focused on simply human emotions and the difficulty of people relating with one another, there’s a nice little intrigue plot to keep those who need a little suspense in their TV humming right along. Some prominent politicians are convinced of his guilt and also don’t like even the possibility of admitting they were wrong and put the wrong man behind bars and on death row for 20 years.  They want him back in jail with a retrial.  Additionally, although we don’t know for sure whether Daniel did or didn’t do it, people who may have actually been responsible for something then, are not thrilled that he’s out on the street again, throwing the events of the night in question, into, well, question.

The small town south is having its moment in the media, led by Winter’s Bone and Justified, but with others, like the recent movie Mud, coming up as well.  As I’ve written about Justified before, this culture is simply an interesting vantage point for me, as a big city/suburban northeasterner, as something that I’ve never been exposed to.  While Rectify doesn’t feature the organized crime angle of the first two southern comparisons, it does place a large forcus on the way things change but stay the same in the small town, and that way that people are harassed for things that their family did now, or decades ago.  As god of all small town southern writers William Faulkner once said, “The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.”  The small town community leaders are determined to sew up their legacies by making sure Daniel doesn’t spent a second longer than he has to after prison.

Daniel’s difficulty in coping with life outside initially is both confounding and understandable from the point of view of the people closest to him.  He’s harassed for not seeming excited enough about his innocence, and his family treat him hesitantly.  He’s unfailingly polite but mysterious and terse.  Every experience is so new and vivid to him, no matter how simple, sitting down on the grass, or staring into the sky.  It can sometimes be slightly difficult to watch, but never cringeworthy.

This is almost certainly the best pilot I’ve seen so far in 2013, and since I’m updating this part of the review after I just watched two more episodes, probably has a slight lead on The Americans to be my favorite new show of the spring season.

Will I watch it again?  Yes, I will.  In fact, I already have by the time this is posted, so this is even surer than most.  If you can figure out where the hell the Sundance channel is on your TV, you should absolutely watch it; there are only six episodes this season, and it’s new, seriously interesting and different TV, which is something I, for one, can never get enough of.