100 Pilots in 100 Days: Rectify

When it was originally on: 2013-2016

Original network: Sundance TV

Where you can stream it before: Netflix

Had I seen it before: No.

What IMDb says: Daniel Holden must put his life back together after serving 19 years on Georgia’s Death Row before DNA evidence calls his conviction into question.

Why I picked it: One of the things I love about daily pilot projects is that it’s a great chance to compare off-the-beaten-path shows from off-the-beaten-path places to the big dogs. So I always search for such shows when putting together The List. To tell you the truth, I’m not even sure I knew there was a Sundance TV network before I started doing research for 100 Pilots in 100 Days. But it turns out there is such a network, and it’s also hard to find premium cable offerings that aren’t HBO, so here we are.

Even though I personally had never really heard much about the show, people who watch Rectify seems to enjoy it. It has a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes with a 93% audience score. There’s also something thrilling about diving into a pilot with virtually no prior knowledge of its plot or characters, which is something I don’t get to do very often.

What I liked: One of my favorite scenes through this whole thing is the one where Daniel is in prison conversing with an inmate in the next cell. This one scene shows us that Daniel does have a personality, and the stunned stupor he’s in during all the other scenes is not really him, but just him adjusting to his new life on the outside. Right when I was beginning to lose hope that this pilot would give me a reason to actually like the protagonist.

I also love some of the interesting plot developments of the last ten minutes. Most of the story seems to suggest a Daniel vs. The System arc. A senator still believes that Daniel is guilty and is already working with other people in law enforcement to try to put Daniel back behind bars. But then we’re introduced to two new characters who MAYBE had something to do with the original crime and their discussions are too vague to really give anything away, but it’s enough to make me curious enough for another episode.

They’ve also done a great job of establishing which members of the cast are pro-Daniel and which members aren’t. Amantha sits squarely in Daniel’s corner. His step siblings on the other hand. . . not so much. They’re not bad people, but Ted Jr. especially has an incentive to put Daniel back in prison so he can take over the family business. It’ll be interesting to see how these different motives manifest in later conflicts. Overall, the pilot sets up a good ol’ whodunit murder mystery, but yet all these layers of tension between different members of Daniel’s family help Rectify avoid a lot of the tropes of a good ol’ whodunit murder mystery.

What I didn’t like: Overall, I can still see a lot of ways for Rectify to become more interesting than this pilot… but the pilot was a little slow for my taste. This thing is 48 minutes long and introduces us to a variety of characters, and yet I feel like not much really happened. I feel like I don’t know much of anything about those characters.

While it is true that there’s different potential conflicts set up between members of Daniel’s family/stepfamily, I wish we had more room to explore who these characters are outside of that conflict. This is perhaps no more evident than in Amantha, Daniel’s sister. She’s set up to be his most ardent supporter throughout the series, but outside of that I don’t really know anything about her. What’s her job? What was her normal day-to-day before this? I could ask the same questions about Daniel’s stepdad or stepsister Tawney.

A lot of pilots have a fairly major change but Rectify is an example of what happens when we don’t really know how any of these characters function when they’re NOT going through a major change. Rather than using the primary conflict to reveal new, interesting things about these different characters, the conflict because this all-consuming things that eclipses relevant character information I wish I knew. All I really learn about anybody (if I learn anything) is how much they like or dislike Daniel.

(For a good example of a pilot that does a good job of exposition BEFORE its major change, check out my review for the pilot of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel). 

Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Somewhat. Again, this pilot wasn’t a dealbreaker, and I could see how it would get good eventually. But a lot of the other pilots I’ve watched thus far managed to give me at least one character I found either compelling or likable or both, so Rectify isn’t exactly at the top of my list.

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