I’ve made my love for this Sundance original drama known, but here I go again, because there may have been some, ahem, distractions between now and the Oct. 26 premiere of Rectify‘s fourth and final season. Despite being among the best dramas of the past few years, and certainly the best currently on the air, Rectify can be a tough sell. There’s practically no sex and very little violence; it’s a slow burn, thoughtful and sensitive, like its protagonist, Daniel Holden (Aden Young), who at the start of the series is released from prison after being held in solitary confinement on death row for 19 years.
There are louder shows on the air right now that block out quieter, less “mind-blowing” series like this. (Westworld, I’m looking at you.) Maybe this is just the wrong time for a show that lacks the kind of bluster we seem to be drawn to like moths to an orange flame. Or maybe it’s exactly the right time: Rectify does more than any other show I can think of to humanize characters that we rarely see in real life, let alone on TV. Its current season — the fifth of ten episodes airs tonight on SundanceTV — extends this treatment beyond Daniel, as he moves into a group home for ex-offenders. If you haven’t seen the show before, all three previous seasons are on Netflix. Now would be a good time to try it out. — Lara Zarum, TV Editor
Occasionally you stumble across a show and wonder why on earth it isn’t already huge. So it goes with Chewing Gum, a riotous comedy that’s currently streaming as a Netflix original. If you want an elevator pitch, it’s kind of like a cross between Broad City and the UK Shameless, except written by, directed by and starring a hugely charismatic, slightly unhinged and waveringly Christian girl from South London, who’s 24 and desperate to be rid of her virginity. Each of the episodes I’ve watched so far have been genuinely hilarious and more than a little disturbing (when you get to the guy threatening to hang himself on his webcam channel, you’ll know what I mean.) Sooner or later, the hype machine will get a hold of this, so get there before the crowd and laugh yourself stupid over Thanksgiving. — Tom Hawking, Editor-in-Chief
Ever since my Electric Boogaloo-fueled obsession with ‘80s schlock factory Cannon Films kicked off last year, I’ve been meaning to check out this Oscar-nominated 1985 adventure drama from director Andrei Konchalovsky, which is frequently floated – along with Cassavetes’s Love Streams and Godard’s King Lear, among others – as examples of the prestige pictures Golan-Globus tried to fund and distribute with their copious Chuck Norris/Charles Bronson money. Its recent Blu-ray upgrade and release by Twilight Time finally gave me an excuse to make time for it, and friend, it was worth the effort.
It’s a fascinating shape-shifter of a movie, starting as a hard-edged prison picture (complete with Danny Trejo’s film debut), then morphing into a prison break adventure, before settling into its final mode of relentless, white-knuckle action flick. Escapees John Voight (short-fused, mostly taciturn tough guy) and Eric Roberts (drawling chatterbox) try to high-tail it out of Alaska on a freight train just as, coincidence of coincidences, its engineer keels over with a heart attack; thus they find themselves thundering down the tracks at rapidly accelerating speeds, with no way for them or anyone else to stop the damn thing. The film is wound tight as a watch, its complications worked out with precision and intelligence, the stunts and effects particularly impressive (being practical and all; Tony Scott’s Unstoppable covered similar ground, but with the big assist of CG). Yet the human element is what sticks here, thanks to the sensitive machismo of its players and the surprising profundity of its closing scenes – it is, after all, not every ‘80s action movie that ends with a quote from Richard III. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor
Zadie Smith — Swing Time
It’s been hard to find distraction in the middle of the cascade of post-election news and horror, but I’m glad I started Zadie Smith’s Swing Time just before the votes were cast so I could have something to open on the subway other than my Twitter stream. I’m still about 50 pages from the end of the novel and I’m taking it slow, savoring the rare pleasure of a novel this meaty, long and complex, with sub-explorations that could each be a novella or short story. Swing Time is the story of two friendships that echo and play off teach other. One is between the narrator and her girlhood friend/frenemy, Tracey, both of whom are amateur dancers. The other involves Aimee, the narrator’s boss in adulthood, who’s a megastar in the Madonna mold and comes with all the problematic cultural appropriation such a role brings, including a lengthy period of time in Africa opening a girls’ school as Oprah did. Swing Time isn’t perfect, but there are few writers out there who have Smith’s facility with a detail, a sentence, and a plot all at once. It’s the most satisfying contemporary reading experience I’ve had since I discovered Elena Ferrante. Novels can’t solve our political problems; yet they are an art form that demands our active comprehension and participation, and we need them more than ever. — Sarah Seltzer, Deputy Editor
Alia Shawkat, finally, in a starring TV role
Since Arrested Development ended, Alia Shawkat has been involved in many great projects. Each time I’d see that she was involved in said great project (namely a favorite show — Getting On — and a favorite movie — Nasty Baby, as well as Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Broad City), I’d get excited to see her name, and then disappointed that the characters were underwritten or simply, as her Getting On and Nasty Baby characters, seemed like they were just casually added because Alia Shawkat’s kinda cool. Finally, with Search Party, she gets a role, Dory, that not only actually makes a mark, but drives the whole narrative, and she’s fantastic: at times numb, at times explosive, she’s able to convince us that the world she lives in is so lacking that the only way she can cope is by embarking on the titular activity — seeking a very minor college acquaintance who’s gone missing — who seems to actually be just an avatar for the search for meaning itself. — Moze Halperin, Senior Editor
The Exorcist (the TV series, that is)
I’ve been seeing a lot of people on my social feeds take notice of The Exorcist TV show, which I’ve ignored up until now, since I’m happy keeping my memories of the original film as is — for some strange reason, my father let me watch The Exorcist at a too-young age. Nothing was scarier to me as a child than the devil, and the film’s practical makeup effects were chilling. With the terribleness of The Walking Dead and the relentless camp of American Horror Story (not a bad thing, though your mileage may vary), it would be nice to find a legit creepy horror series to get into. I’m only one episode into The Exorcist series, but the atmosphere is just right so far. — Alison Nastasi, Weekend Editor