'Perpetual Grace, LTD': TV Review

Please discover this man's series.
6/2/2019

This Epix drama from Steven Conrad (Amazon's 'Patriot') is a thriller about magicians, pastors and swindlers, with an ensemble cast led by Ben Kingsley and Jacki Weaver.

This review contains several discussions of potential miracles and the cross-connections of fate, all in the service of getting you to find a show and watch said show while at the same time trying to get a rival streaming service to wake the hell up and save a separate show and, finally, but not accidentally, to maybe get some Emmy attention for any number of worthy actors from both shows.

It should be fun. Come along.

Let's start with a series of declaratives:

1. I think, strongly, that Perpetual Grace, LTD is a great series even though I've only seen two of its 10 episodes. That, in case you were wondering, is a bold thing to state, but sometimes you just know (also, only two episodes were sent for review, if you were planning on being snarky). 

2. I already know, definitively, that Patriot is a great show. It has two seasons in the books and I ranked it very, very highly in both 2017 and 2018.

3. That means that the creator, writer and director of those series, Steven Conrad, is an elite talent that you'd better not sleep on.

4. Perpetual Grace, LTD, co-created with Bruce Terris, is on Epix and starts Sunday and I know that you probably don't have Epix or might not even know what it means.

5. Patriot is on Amazon, which you probably do get (maybe you're one of the people who get it for the two-day delivery and haven't figured out you get a bunch of great shows and music and stuff with it, but I hope not). Anyway, you probably haven't watched Patriot because if you had then Amazon Studios wouldn't be weirdly sitting on its hands in silence about the fate of a third season, which could be dead already but I'm going to pretend is possibly still alive.

6. Conrad just went from a guy with one critically acclaimed series you don't know about to, very likely, a guy with two critically acclaimed series you don't know about and instead of making him unlucky it actually changes the dynamics and makes it less about the shows and more about him, which in turn could save or prolong both shows as a side effect. Meaning, regardless of how many eyeballs watch either of these series (and the importance of that on a subscription-based service is highly debatable), the fact is that there's no getting around that content providers will want to be in business with someone as talented as Conrad, thus potentially giving him the leverage to save his babies.

7. Conrad has a brother, Chris, who is very funny and in both series. More on that later.

8. Perpetual Grace, LTD stars Sir Ben Kingsley and, even after seeing only two episodes, he's my odds-on favorite to win the Emmy for best actor in 2020. Yes really.

9. Many of the actors in Patriot are acting in Perpetual Grace, LTD (Terry O'Quinn, Kurtwood Smith, Chris Conrad, Michael Chernus, Hana Mae Lee), and they are fantastic. But beyond that both shows have very deep ensemble casts spilling out with talent, and holy hell is Jimmi Simpson (Westworld, Black Mirror) great in the new show, his performance confirming Conrad's ability to get two excellent actors (Michael Dorman of Patriot being the other) to perfectly match the rhythms of his dialogue and express the emotional depths of the kind of characters he excels at — the fundamentally good person doing something bad that makes him sad inside and constantly trying to atone for it, like a nice person who did a bad thing, possibly repeatedly.

10. I haven't seen enough of the work of two-time Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver or many others in the two first episodes sent for review, but I've seen enough of Damon Herriman and Luis Guzman to say, definitively, that they are glorious.

OK, so is that a ringing endorsement, or what, of two separate shows from the same person, with many of the same actors and an abundance of greatness, even if their titles leave a lot to be desired?

It is.

So, onto Perpetual Grace, LTD.  

Written by Conrad and Bruce Terris (Patriot), the series is set in New Mexico. We first meet James (Simpson), a firefighter who has a troubling meltdown at work that leads to disaster. To escape his demons, he just drifts away until he ends up in a bar in Half Acre, N.M., where he meets Paul Allen Brown (Herriman), a disgruntled magician (more on that also in a moment) who is the son of Pastor Byron Brown, aka Pa (Kingsley) and Ma (Weaver), who run Our Lady of Perpetual Grace, a church that helps wayward (sometimes drug-addled) locals and drifters get their lives back in order — which also happens to include helping them with their banking, thus eventually bilking their life savings and storing it in their company, Our Lady of Perpetual Grace, LTD.

Paul knows Pa and Ma have more than $4 million and he wants to take it from them, partly because his father, as a holy man, hated magic. As Paul tells James over a drink: "God hates magicians. Hates magic. It says in the Bible. Something." Paul convinces the distraught James to go along with the plan, for half the money. "And, oh yeah, you'd have to get hooked on methadone." 

The plan, Paul says, is "simple." They lure Pa and Ma to Mexico where a put-upon sheriff named Hector (Guzman) holds the parents in a minimum security prison for two weeks, unhurt, and James "steals" Paul's identity, gets control of the money, which they split, and then James leaves town, Pa and Ma are released and Paul claims his identity was stolen.

Simple.

You can imagine that this doesn't go well.

Conrad takes ample advantage of the vastness of New Mexico, using a kind of sepia-toned filter for parts of the dusty remote spaces and an array of middle-distance shots that get at how Half Acre is really pretty desolate. As he proves in Patriot, he's not afraid to try an array of odd directing styles that ultimately end up skewing intimate, since characters and the banter between them are the fuel of these series.

While two episodes isn't normally enough to fully establish a tone, this pair are beautiful and funny and unleash on the viewer a bevy of excellent characters, including Conrad's brother Chris, playing a former convict turned Lens Crafter franchise owner turned hunting dog searching for the person who ripped him off (and yes, the Conrad brothers have a keen sense of quirky comedy). 

As a writer, Conrad has an astute sense of what seem like simple conversations that turn either philosophical or brutally funny, sometimes all at once. In both Patriot and Perpetual Grace, LTD, his joy at repeating phrases ("pretty good" in Patriot— it's impossible to explain how that one works in one sentence) and here "incorrigible," for starters, is a thing of real beauty.

Kingsley, in particular, seems to find himself in a kind of paradise of fantastic dialogue — like he's been born to the oddly funny cadence of Pa and his blunt truisms. A scene with Pa listening to Hector describe the detective book he's been working on is just a spectacularly well constructed and funny bit of writing and acting that I rewatched about five different times. And you'll have to trust me that Kingsley as Pa (an extremely dangerous man, it turns out) saying these words in vastly different scenes is surreal: "Get it. Get the rhythm. Get the fucking rhythm. There we go. There we fucking go." Like I said, I've only seen two episodes and I'm already using that around the house. Oh, and you'll want to know what the title of the second episode, "Orphan Comb Death Fight," means, while also wanting it as the title to your debut album.

What the Platinum Age of Television has given us is plenty of exceptional series and a number of standout auteur writers. Conrad is definitely one of them and his series are unique (if underappreciated, currently) in the landscape.

Here's hoping that not only does Perpetual Grace, LTD get you to discover Epix (you can actually stream it affordably on an app now, and the channel has another favorite, the critically acclaimed Get Shorty on its bench), but that it also gets you to discover Patriot on Amazon, and both series stay alive until the completion of their stories.

Cast: Ben Kingsley, Jimmi Simpson, Jacki Weaver, Damon Herriman, Luis Guzman, Dana DeLorenzo, Chris Conrad, Dash Williams, Michael Chernus, Terry O'Quinn, Kurtwood Smith, Hana Mae Lee

Created and written by: Steven Conrad and Bruce Terris

Directed by: Steven Conrad

Premieres Sunday, June 2, on Epix