Of late, I’ve been tuning into the Showtime drama America Rust each week. Set in a corroded steel town in southwestern Pennsylvania, it follows police chief Del Harris (Jeff Daniels) as he investigates the murder of one of his former officers. It expands beyond that case to delve into the lives of other locals, however, including Grace Poe (Maura Tierney), the mother of suspect Billy (Alex Neustaedter), who’s striving to unionize the dressmaking shop where she works, and the English family (Bill Camp, David Alvarez and Julia Mayorga), whose patriarch—in something of a metaphor—is paralyzed from the waist down. The mystery isn’t who committed the murder, as that’s known within the first few episodes, but how these characters, damaged all, manage to hold on.
It’s a bleak story accented by washed-out cinematography, dystopian in feel though not practice, and conveys the reality faced by America’s forgotten classes. While driving through the shuttered business district, for example, Lee (Mayorga)—who’s returned home after a few years away—mentions to her husband that it’s been that way for as long as she can remember. When factories and mills shut down in a one-industry town, people suffer—and getting out, moving on, isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Though the acting is top-notch (and how could it not be with Daniels and Tierney at the helm?), the series does suffer from occasional lapses into maudlin pacing and creaky dialogue. Yet, those criticisms aside, it’s well worthwhile. In some respects, it’s akin to a Bruce Springsteen song set to film…
1) “Darkness on the Edge of Town.”
2) “The River.”
4) “The Ghost of Tom Joad.”
5) “Rocky Ground.”