Review: Perpetual Grace LTD 1×1 (US: Epix)

Sexy Beast with a There Will Be Blood accent

Perpetual Grace

In the US: Sundays, 10/9c, Epix
In the UK: Not yet acquired

There’s a strange overlap between theatre, independent cinema and small TV networks trying to make a name for themselves. Certainly, when you watch “a neo-noir thriller” with long two-handed scenes of deliberately unnaturalistic dialogue delivered by “actors’ actors”, in long-shot and black and white, you know you’re not watching NBC – this is going to be Epix, Starz, IFC or SundanceTV, AMC at a push.

Epix is an odd addition to that list, since so far, it’s been content with more accessible programming, such as Berlin Station, Get Shorty and Graves. Actually, that’s basically been it as far as it goes in the three years since the network decided to give scripted a whirl, so Perpetual Grace LTD feels like a distinct change of direction and attempt to reframe the network.

Jimmi Simpson and Damon Herriman in Perpetual Grace LTD
Jimmi Simpson and Damon Herriman in Perpetual Grace LTD

Perpetual grace and favour

Written and usually directed by Steven Conrad (Patriot, Wonder, The Pursuit of Happyness), Perpetual Grace sees Jimmi Simpson (Breakout Kings, Westworld) playing a former firefighter. Former because he quit the fire brigade after a rookie firefighter was killed through his negligence.

One day, he’s approached by Damon Herriman (Secret City, Quarry, Squinters, Mr InBetween) who’s looking for someone to help him get some money out of his estranged god-bothering parents. All Simpson has to do is get into their good books and send them looking for him down south where a friendly policeman (Code Black‘s Luis Guzmán) will lock them up for a fortnight. During that time, Simpson can assume Herriman’s identity, declare them dead and then take over their assets.

Simple, right?

Oh yes, one more thing – he’s got to get addicted to methadone so that they’ll take him in.

Trouble is, Herriman’s holding back on a couple of secrets and Simpson’s really not the ruthless criminal type.

Worse still, Herriman’s parents are Ben Kingsley and Jacki Weaver.

Oh dear.

Ben Kingsley and Jacki Weaver
Ben Kingsley and Jacki Weaver in Epix’s Perpetual Grace Ltd

Perpetual perplexion

I didn’t quite know what to expect going into Perpetual Grace Ltd. I’d not watched the trailer and the most I knew about it was the casting from the news and its name. After a few minutes, I began to suspect I was watching a typical bit of pretentious nonsense from someone who couldn’t get funding on the indie movie circuit and decided to take the TV cash.

But first impressions can deceive. Instead, Perpetual Grace Ltd sits somewhere between high art and outright comedy, all viewed through a noir lens.

Simpson feels like he’s escaped from Hal Hartley’s Amateur – a would-be criminal who doesn’t know how to be a criminal. He tries to rob a pawn store, only to become friends with the kid who runs it after hearing his sob story about his dad and why he has to wear a marching band uniform. He even comes to visit him, bearing milkshakes, after he’s committed the deed.

Meanwhile, Kingsley is a rich combination: he’s his Sexy Beast character, but with a There Will Be Blood accent, delivering his gritty, arch, biblical threats of violence like he’s just come out of a 1950s Eton Latin class. His relationship with Simpson is by turns entertaining, moving and – one suspects in future episodes – terrifying, judging by the fact he can kill people with a shoe if he so wishes.

Weaver, who so far has as many lines as she didn’t in Bloom, is slow coming to the party, but I have high hopes for the scary woman from Animal Kingdom and Goldstone. And Terry O’Quinn (Patriot, Lost) makes for an excellent and very formal US marshal.

Perpetual Grace

Wrong footing

Similarly, the imagery is there to confuse. For all that Conrad uses noir imagery, from 1950s cars and black and white to grimy settings and slow scenes, he’s constantly intermixing it with modern vehicles, spacemen and other iconography to disjoint the tone and wrong-foot the viewer – taking the already unnatural, theatrical dialogue to new heights.

Indeed, misdirection is the name of the game. Simpson is a criminal who isn’t and who pretends to be someone else, who’s pretending to be something he isn’t. Kingsley and Weaver are apparently old people of faith, but they could probably destroy an entire city if they felt like it. Nothing is what it seems, including the show itself.

Pleasantly, too, as well as being downright funny at times, Perpetual Grace Ltd clips along at pace. This isn’t AMC or SundanceTV, where it’ll be an entire season before something happens. That trailer has more or less the first episode in it, not the first season.

So it’s a definite thumbs up from me for now for this somewhat surreal, surprisingly comedic neo-noir. Hopefully, it’ll be able to maintain the same qualities in later episodes.

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