Rectify is slow-cooked drama at its best

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    Rectify is slow-cooked drama at its best

Somehow both Rectify and The West passed me by when they first aired. One is a fictional history, the other real, yet still mythical. Both have a violent back story.

Rectify is slow-cooked drama at its best. It reveals itself without the aid of pace -- it works in a glacial way, you can't see it moving and God knows how much it weighs, but it's not light.

Like many great shows, The Wire among them, it seeps into your pores.


The three-episode hump can be hard to traverse, but stick with it.

Through artful use of back-story flashbacks and a crockpot simmer of the procedural hanging in the emotionally charged air, Rectify engages you and is skewed more than enough to feel fresh.

The story hangs on the release of Daniel Holden (Aden Young) from 19 years on death row for the rape and murder of a teenage girl from his hometown in Georgia. The DNA seems conclusive but doubt lingers throughout the series as Dan tries to return to life in a town full of ghosts and ghouls.

The characters are superbly drawn, each one can hold an episode, and they soon return like long-lost friends when off screen.

I'm not sure the effects of incarceration and reintegration have ever been so completely realised on screen - a man's dark and tortured soul so well played - and yet somehow, and this is key, a thread of humour, of surprise, of fun runs through the whole enterprise.

The puppet master, writer and director, is Ray Mckinnon, best known as an actor. His best role was in another nugget of pure TV gold, Deadwood, where he played the Rev Henry Smith, a true-life preacher given a fictional turbo charge and a brain tumour. It was a remarkable role and performance, full of pathos, humanity, all that deep shit and it seems to have rubbed off in chunks into Rectify.

So, I've already mentioned The Wire and Deadwood, so I may as well drop in The Sopranos, this is up there, and I reckon influenced by all three. But there is a hitch: at the moment you'll have to get creative, or better still buy a DVD, for series 1 - 3, as NZ Netflix has yet to add the show, (it is on US Netflix) the Rialto Channel, which is where I watched, no longer has the rights to those seasons, but will re-screen series 4 sometime this year.

The West, is another master work from Ken Burns, the documentary maker so good that the satirical site The Onion recently wrote him a joke headline. The claim was that they had scored an interview with the "one man who had watched the Ken Burns Jazz series all the way through".

Not one of their best gags, but I do get it, I only watched most of Jazz and I love his work. Burns certainly doesn't reward short attention spans, his The Civil War epic is meaty, while Jazz is a beast; 19 hours' worth of his trademark brew of portentous narration and photographic zooms. It proved too much for me.

I'm not sure how I missed The West, which bears his name as Executive Producer, with Stephen Ives as director. But the playbook is pure Burns in this 1996, 9-part history of the American West. It takes us from the days of Native American dominance through the optimism of homesteaders, the madness of gold seekers, the fever of the railways, the devastation of Buffalo, and later, the swarms of cattle and sheep that boomed and came to grief.

Threaded throughout are the many and varied tragedies faced by the natives. It concludes with Sitting Bull confined to a reservation at Standing Rock. I began watching during the Standing Rock protests of late 2016, a chance find during a search for a picture, but once I'd watched the first minute I knew, that unlike Jazz, I'd get through the lot. The connection with the protests against the oil pipeline was a reminder of the constant need for historical back stories for contemporary contemplation.

What's past is prologue, be it at Standing Rock in 2016 or the Ureweras in 2007.

Peter Coyote's narration is a marvel of calming authority and he has real Wild West bonefides. He changed his name from Cohen, to Coyote, after taking the drug peyote and hallucinating his footprints as those of a coyote.

The dude's also had a part on Deadwood, as General Crook, but his voice is his best foot. It's a key ingredient in any documentary, especially ones set in the distant past, where few interviews or even newsreels are available. A DVD of the series would make a great gift, but you can watch it all for naught on good old YouTube.

One of the many things I have to thank the late great AA Gill for is his rave about another historical gem, The Great War (1964 BBC), which also resides on YouTube in all its 26-episode glory. Among the cats and makeup tutorials, there lies a great seam of such documentaries, from the classics to Adam Curtis's recent HyperNormalisation, an unsettling an visually stunning essay on the rise of Trump.

Rectify - series 1-3 on DVD

The West - Youtube
The Great War - Youtube