This week, as I've worked mightily to meet deadlines for our Fall TV Preview (which will post online later next week and appear in print on Sunday, Sept. 18), I was reminded what a surreal experience it is to try to cogently review 30 different shows at once. All those character names (and the names of actors who play them), all those plot premises, all those murder victims, all those sex scenes – you start to lose track, especially when many network shows seem to always aim for the middle of the road. You also get to the point where you'd love another word for "subtle" (besides quiet).
The real reward is getting to be among the first to effuse about a true standout or two, such as Cinemax's "Quarry," which premieres Friday night (Sept. 9). I'm including it in the fall package, but I wanted to go ahead and post the working draft of my review today, in time for the first episode. Along with Donald Glover's "Atlanta" on FX, "Quarry" is probably my favorite show this fall. Here's my review:
Nothing's better for a TV critic than falling in love with a show that didn't sound like much on paper. Cinemax's lean and mean new eight-episode drama "Quarry," based on Max Allan Collins's crime novels, is about Mac Conway ("Prometheus's" Logan Marshall-Green), a marine who comes home to Memphis from Vietnam in 1972 and finds little opportunity for a veteran of an unpopular war — so he reluctantly becomes a hired gun for an enigmatic crime boss who calls himself The Broker (Peter Mullan).
See? Describing "Quarry" only makes it sound like one more cable drama about a difficult man drawn into a world of despicable, murderous people. Created and written by Michael D. Fuller and Graham Gordy (with Greg Yaitanes as showrunner/director), "Quarry" instead comes to life as soon as you turn it on, with a heartbreaking sense of soul, a strong ear for dialogue and an array of supporting players (including "Justified's" Damon Herriman) who lend the show an impressive degree of grit, gallows humor and suspense.
Marshall-Green, however, delivers a superb performance as the emotionally and mentally wounded Mac; he is matched scene for smoldering scene by Jodi Balfour, who plays his wife, Joni. Moreover, the show's set direction and period details are impressively flawless, whether depicting the '70s-era blues rock scene and riots over school busing, or in the small things, down to the pull tabs ripped off beer cans and the Scripps-Howard lighthouse logo on the front page of the Memphis Press-Scimitar.
"Quarry's" knack for conveying moral ambiguity and its mastery of setting reminds me of another very good show that took forever to catch on; it was about a cancer-stricken chemistry teacher in Albuquerque who started cooking meth to make money. Don't wait for the buzz that may or may not arrive — move "Quarry" to the top of your watch list now. Grade: A