The fourth and final season of Rectifygets going on SundanceTV tonight, preparing to wrap up a critically adored, if not widely appreciated, drama. Creator Ray McKinnon says he’s at peace with the show, about a man released from a 19-year stint in prison after DNA evidence clears him of the rape and murder of his girlfriend, coming to a close.
“It’s a lot,” he says of the production, which represented SundanceTV’s first scripted original when it debuted in the spring of 2013. “I’ve described it as pushing the most beautiful rock up the hill, but you’ve still got to push a rock up the hill. I don’t want to start becoming conventional, and it’s really hard not to become conventional.”
Visiting B&C in New York, McKinnon says he’s pushed the characters and story “as far as we need to.” And so it’s time to move on.
An accomplished actor and filmmaker before taking on Rectify, McKinnon said he initially sought to create a strongly serialized drama along the lines of The Sopranos and Six Feet Under, but it was the understated power of AMC’s Mad Men that made him think a series like Rectify had a chance.
“I didn’t think there would be anybody that was interested in the story I wanted to tell,” he says. “Mad Men showed up, and there were similarities—the examination of private lives, they moved at a certain pace, were novelistic, and you felt you had to pay attention.”
The darkly witty McKinnon adds, “I thought maybe there’s a place for this show someday.”
Despite the critical acclaim, a languid, character-driven drama such as Rectify hardly stands out in the 450 scripted show universe. The NY Times describes it both as “small” and “quiet,” yet neither is intended as a put-down. Writes James Poniewozik:
“Rectify, like [protagonist] Daniel, feels out of step with its time. Its broad empathy separates it from the law-and-order crime show tradition; its deep Christian themes—grace, redemption, being one’s brother’s keeper—go against pop culture’s secularist individualism. It doesn’t even fit the cable TV antihero mold. Daniel, looking to step as gently in the world as possible, is the opposite of a man-who-knocks like Walter White — he’s an anti-antihero.”
McKinnon is pleased anyone watched at all. “It’s kind of a miracle that this even happened,” he says. “The idea that anybody sees the show, that I didn’t have to pass out flyers to get people to see the show…That they respond to it in an authentic way reflects back to me that they got it.”
McKinnon admits that Rectify might not even get made in this current TV landscape. “It feels like it came around at the right time, with the right network,” he says.
The show has served as a prestige project for Sundance. When it was renewed for season four in July 2015, Charlie Collier, AMC and SundanceTV president, said, "Even in an increasingly crowded field of dramas on television, Rectify has established itself as something special. What Ray McKinnon, this incredible cast and everyone associated with the show have been able to achieve is remarkable.”
Visibly drained from producing the final season, McKinnon is cautiously pessimistic he’ll tackle another TV series. He uses the analogy of a fish biting a hook, being tossed back in the pond, forgetting about the hook, then biting on the next hook that falls its way. “Maybe in a few months I’ll forget about the pain,” McKinnon says with a laugh.