Sundance Film Festival director John Cooper says he first realized there's room for TV shows at the fest when he developed a bit of a habit. "After the festival, I would always watch lot of TV shows, all the way through, in one day," he says.

And at the 2013 festival, two very adicting TV shows, Rectify and Top of the Lake, were screened for audiences.


Rectify cast members: Luke Kirby, Aden Young, J. Smith-Cameron, Abigail Spencer, Adelaide Clemens, Clayne Crawford

Ray McKinnon, the creator of Recitfy, told the audience "It takes a village to raise an individual film, but it takes a small town to raise a television show." And all of that support payed off for this intense show, which will air on Sundance Channel this April.

Daniel Holden (Aden Young), a man who is released from death row in a small Georgia town when DNA shows he may have not killed his high school sweetheart, has to adjust to life in the outside world. After two decades behind bars, this means living in a community where people still think he did it and relearning to interact with his family. 

The audience at Sundance was shown the first two episodes, and through both, the viewer is left wondering if Daniel did it or not—and if he didn't, who did? But this isn't a legal drama—instead it focuses on how Daniel's release affects him and everyone around him. The viewer also witnesses the horrors of prison life, as Daniel has flashbacks and describes his experiences.

The drama is broken up by funny, sharp scenes, like Daniel buying a Smart Water at a convenience store and asking, "Does this work?" When Daniel's sister, Amantha, mentions gallows humor, Daniel says they call it "lethal injection humor" on death row.

All of the characters are so deep. Ted Jr. (Clayne Crawford) is worried about Daniel's return impacting his status with the family business. Amantha (Abigail Spencer) is the protective sister who doesn't hold back her words, and Janet (J. Smith-Cameron) is the mom who distances herself from the situation. And all of the characters are much more complicated than that.

McKinnon got the idea for the series 10 years ago, when he saw the news surrounding prisoners' releases based on DNA evidence. He studied these stories, and tried to incorporate elements of real life.

Top of the Lake

Photo by Parisa Tahizadeh

Before the screening Top of the Lake, co-creator Jane Campion told the audience, "You'll probably leave in an hour … we'll have badges for those still there at the end." But the Egyptian Theatre was packed for all seven episodes (six at the fest), which will air on Sundance Channel in March.

Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss) is visiting her sick mother, when she gets a call to interview Tui, a 12-year-old pregnant girl who nearly dies while wandering into a frigid lake in a small New Zealand town. At first, the question on everybody's mind is "Who raped Tui?" But when the girl goes missing, other shocking revelations come to the forefront. 

Further twists come into the picture as a group of women dealing with their own hardships move onto a plot of land claimed by Tui's notorious father Matt Mitcham (Peter Mullan), who is definitely the most-hated person in the show (but you get to see the human side of him, too). Later, Matt launches his own search for Tui and is revealed to be hiding something. In addition to dealing with the girl's disappearance, Robin struggles with romance, family issues and a secret of her own.

There is some humor, but the show's main purpose is to keep you on the edge of your seat. This show takes the sharpest turns when you least expect it. You will be addicted to this wild ride, and the end will shock you.

Gerard Lee was Campion's co-creator, and Garth Davis directed.