I have been to ATX TV Festival most of the years it’s been going. I feel like each year there is one show that I won’t stop talking about with anyone that will listen. With two days of the festival still to go, I already feel confident that Perpetual Grace is it this year.
Perpetual Grace offers a callback to the old guard while still making a new and modern take on noir. Pretend Sam Shepard and Alfred Hitchcock cowrote a script in Writer Heaven, but then gave it to David Lynch and the Coen Brothers to punch up. That’s Perpetual Grace. Obvious noir influences combine with a stark Western aesthetic and weave themselves seamlessly into a surreally real tapestry to create a mystery. It’s being labeled as a thriller, and I guess that’s a word for it. To me, though, it’s more of a serialized mystery full of so many characters trying to pull one over on someone else that you don’t know who to believe or trust.
Airing on EPIX, this show has the star power of Ben Kingsley and Jacki Weaver, with the increasingly white-hot touch of Jimmi Simpson. When a movie star continuously appears in a hit, they begin referring to them as a “bankable” at the box office. Well, between Westworld and Perpetual Grace (not to mention his genius recurring role on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia), Simpson is becoming TV bankable. Luis Guzman also has a pivotal role as a corrupt prison guard in Mexico and if Guzman is involved, you just know it’s going to be good.
Perpetual Grace is like nothing that is on right now, and it’s clear that was the intent by executive producers Steve Conrad and Bruce Terris. It’s a show told mostly out of any specific time. Sure, there are smartphones but there’s also a scene where James (Jimmi Simpson) opens a bank account in a brick and mortar bank branch. Kingsley and Weaver’s characters, most often simply referred to as Pa and Ma, drive a car that could be from any '60s or '70s dealership and their farmhouse might as well be in a turn of the century period piece.
The plot surrounds James, an ex-firefighter as he drifts through life, untethered after a tragic accident. He encounters Paul (Damon Herriman) in a bar, who is looking for someone to help him grift his parents (Pa and Ma) out of millions and James is just that person. Paul claims they run a corrupt church and don’t deserve to keep their ill-gotten gains. The thing about a man who would con his parents out of millions, though, is that he isn’t exactly honest. You pretty quickly come to find that all is definitely not as it seems for James. Or for Pa and Ma, for that matter.
In discussing the show, Conrad and Terris were having to hold themselves back from talking about the next episode, and the one after that and the one after that. (There will be ten episodes in the first season.) These guys are so passionate about their show that even just talking about working with Conrad brought Terris to tears. That’s as ringing an endorsement for the show as it is the collaborators. Conrad clearly has a great deal of respect for how much his audience will understand and be able to keep up with the show. Rather than use a heavy hand with exposition, he lets the mystery unfold and then fold in on itself again organically. “I want [the audience] to feel well-regarded by the experience.” declared Conrad in a post-screening Q&A. That much is clear, and the show is all the better for it.
Indeed, the show has a cinematic feel, and didn’t seem at all out of place on a big screen. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to call everyone I know and tell them to immediately watch Perpetual Grace. Possibly even people I don’t know. Maybe even make a sandwich board about it and hand out flyers on a street corner preaching the Good News about Perpetual Grace.