Tuesday, February 3, 2015

In Praise of Sundance Channel's Rectify

Rectify, currently in between its second and third seasons on the Sundance Channel, is like nothing else on television right now. It's about a man in his late 30s released from death row after being on it for 19 years. It's officially taken the torch from Friday Night Lights as TV's #1 show that treats religion/Christianity—which is to say, flesh and blood human beings who are "religious" or "Christian"—seriously. Case in point: The pure, earnest Southern evangelical blonde woman—just a cavalcade of stereotypes waiting to be exploited—is not depicted as stupid or superficial, but rather as the one person whom the main character can connect to, because she genuinely cares about him. In this case, to use her language, she cares about his soul. And he appreciates it.

The show is set in rural Georgia, and I can bear witness: The people on this show look, talk, think, relate, and live how actual southerners do. They aren't cardboard satellites of LA or NYC; they aren't stupid (though they do talk slower); they aren't dupes in collective thrall to superstition and conspiracy theories. Matt Zoller Seitz calls Rectify "truly Christian art." Maybe, and the aspiration is commendable; but the sheer accomplishment of depicting ordinary life outside of Hollywood and Manhattan, beyond boardrooms and crime scenes, populated by women and men who believe things and live in ways that are alien to cultural elites: now that's something.

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