The upcoming fall season will be lucky to generate even a fraction as many hits as this unusually busy TV summer produced, a list of keepers that includes Outlander, The Strain, The Knick, The Last Ship, Undateable, to name just a few. (Even something as underwhelming as AMC's Halt and Catch Fire, which didn't, has been renewed by its increasingly desperate network, and I'm hoping for good news about the future of WGN America's Manhattan and WE's The Divide.)
But few summer pick-ups have made me happier (not a word I typically associate with the series) than SundanceTV's renewal earlier this week of a true sleeper, the brooding Rectify, for a third year. Even by this show's deliberately and thoughtfully slow standards, the first half of the second season seemed to drag ponderously, but in recent weeks, the subtle emotional power of this profoundly sad and poignant story has reasserted itself, leading to a season finale (Thursday, 9/8c) that is so affecting and shattering that it couldn't possibly be the last chapter in creator Ray McKinnon's mournful saga of injustice and redemption.
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Aden Young's masterfully nuanced performance continues to grow in fascination as we try to understand what makes his character, Daniel Holden, tick. Daniel is still adjusting, tentatively and awkwardly, to life after nearly 20 traumatic years on death row, released back to his conflicted Georgia family and a small-town community unwilling to forget or forgive — although his level of guilt in the rape/murder of his teenage girlfriend remains a source of unnerving ambiguity. Lost in reveries at once dreamy and nightmarish, Daniel is the most inscrutable of protagonists, possessed of moments of rare dignity and grace but also simmering with explosive rage that erupts with terrible unpredictability.. Lost in reveries at once dreamy and nightmarish, Daniel is the most inscrutable of protagonists, possessed of moments of rare dignity and grace but also simmering with explosive rage that erupts with terrible unpredictability.
As the second season comes to a taut and cliffhanging climax, the political and legal forces that once sealed Daniel's fate are again conspiring to remove him from the deceptively peaceful world of his hometown, Paulie. If they can't send him back to prison, banishment from the town and state is the option now on the table in a plea deal that Daniel's champions, including his lawyer (Luke Kirby) and headstrong sister Amantha (the wonderful Abigail Spencer), urge him not to sign. Complicating matters on the home front is the seemingly broken marriage of his jealous stepbrother Teddy (Clayne Crawford) and emotionally fragile wife Tawney (Adelaide Clemons), who is drawn to the damaged Daniel. Rectify is written and acted with such empathy that you ache for each of these characters at one time or another.
Last week, Daniel challenged his sister to name one person whose life was better off since his release. There's no easy answer to that in an absorbing drama where deep waters run still and emotions run so deep. I expect I'll be haunted for months by Daniel's dilemma until the show resumes sometime next year.
LIGHTEN UP: As Homer might say: Mmmm ... repeats. Couches across America may never be the same after the TV marathon to end all TV marathons: a 12-day wallow in every single episode of The Simpsons from the first 25 seasons (starting at 10 a.m./9c), a 552-episode smorgasbord in chronological order — including The Simpsons Movie in its proper sequence — running to Sept. 1, all to promote the show's exclusive new cable home on FXX starting Sept. 2. (Which ought to help put this spinoff network on the map.) ... And qualifying as both funny and sad, given the tragic circumstances, Bravo repeats one of its most popular installments of Inside the Actors Studio as a tribute to the late Robin Williams, featuring his free-wheeling interview with James Lipton that originally aired in 2001.