All that said, the series premiere of "Rectify" may have stolen the show, at least for some critics. The six-episode series, about a man adjusting to a new life after being exonerated after nineteen years of charges for raping and murdering his girlfriend, has been hailed by critics.
"It isn't just good TV, it's revelatory TV. The genre's biggest potential game changer since AMC debuted the one-two punch of 'Mad Men' and 'Breaking Bad.'"
"Sundance Channel's 'Rectify' joins a short list of potentially all-time great newcomers."
Critics were especially appreciative of the performances. Ellen Grey of the Philadelphia Daily News said that "there's not a bad performance" on the show and highlighted Aden Young, who plays the show's protagonist, Daniel Holden, who "carries every scene he's in." RedEye's Curt Wagner agreed, saying that the supporting cast "fills every moment with interesting, unexpected choices" and highlighted a wordless cameo from Hal Holbrook as "mesmerizing."
"Rectify" is characterized largely by its slow pace, however, so it has its detractors. In a three star (out of five) review, David Hinckley of New York Daily News twice took note of the show's "measured" pace, but said that pop culture references (his stepbrother "catches him up" by showing him "Dazed and Confused") keep it just active enough. Indeed, many other critics, detractors and supporters both, took note of the pace.
"Watching the premiere on Monday night you will think Sundance has found a winner in its first wholly owned drama series...But almost as soon as the second episode starts the qualities of surprise and humanity seem to fade and the series takes a turn into gassiness and obscurity."
"A story that's going to be told this slowly needs multiple layers of characterization to be pulled back, and so far there's little indication of that in 'Rectify.'"
"'Rectify' is a meditative work that allows for long silences and far-away stares as part of its storytelling, which means it's not for everyone."
The meditative pace, mystery, strong acting and especially the cinematography and overall beauty of the show led many to compare it to Sundance's recently-concluded series, Jane Campion's "Top of the Lake." That "Rectify" is taking the time-slot of "Top of the Lake" only fed comparisons, comparisons that Hank Steuver took further in his review for The Washington Post:
"Both dramas suggest real potential for a new genre in post-idiot-box television, a category I'd call movie-of-the-many-weeks."
Comparing a miniseries with an independent film is not new in and of itself, but for Sundance to provide two successful examples the same television season that will feature two HBO movies at the Cannes Film Festival only makes the prospect of the mini-series as the new independent and mid-budget film increasingly strong. Indeed, McNamara's LA Times review already engages with the episode in much the same way critics engage with the best films, and the show has already been compared to the Sundance Film Festival's best films.
"Everything, the writing, the directing, the cinematography, the sound editing, works to bring this character to life. Shots linger on the green wonderland of an ordinary backyard or the crowded silence of an empty morning kitchen. The scrape of a fork on a plate, the opening and closing of a door, all force the viewer to look again, look anew, as if we too had been separated from reality for all those years."
With four and five times the duration, the Sundance Channel may have tapped into a long-overdue market.