If you’ve got even a passing familiarity with Ben Kingsley, you probably have a suspicion he’s a badass. Your intuition is correct. He is. And in his new leading role as Pastor Byron Brown – known to most as Pa – in Perpetual Grace LTD he removes any doubt, once and for all.
A firefighter named James (Jimmi Simpson from Westworld) survives a tragedy but loses his moral compass along the way and gets talked into a con by Paul Allen Brown (Damon Herriman). The con? Rip off Paul’s parents, the aforementioned Pastor and his wife Lillian (Jacki Weaver), by sending them to Mexico, faking their deaths, and then cashing in Paul’s inheritance.
Simple, right? Except, James also has to get addicted to methadone, assume Paul’s identity, contend with a coroner/astronaut, and tackle the challenges that come with taking on a persona and personal history not his own. What could possibly go wrong?
Everything, that’s what
Perpetual Grace LTD was created and written by Steven Conrad and Bruce Terris, but could just as easily have come from the desks of the Coen brothers. Part noir, part Western, with bouts of borderline absurdism, the show looks like a sepia photograph for the most part, with flashbacks conveniently presented in ambiguity-killing black-and-white. It’s also got a great bluesy and garage-rock soundtrack that suits its madness.
Despite occasional bursts of violence and depravity, the show’s finest strokes are when it embraces pathos. There’s the all-too-real frustration of hired Mexican prison guard Hector Contreras (Luis Guzmán), who’s ridiculed by his wife, embarrassed by his sons, and wants to write a detective novel.
Sure, the rest of the cast might be strong and the writing might be tight, but it all pales into insignificance when faced with the raw, menacing power that is Ben Kingsley.
Then there’s the show’s other supporting highlight, the teenaged son of a pawn shop owner, Glenn Pirdoo (Dash Williams), who’s chronically unlucky, awkward and simply looking to bolster his vocabulary and maybe get some time off to do the things teenagers do.
King of the rodeo
Sure, the rest of the cast might be strong and the writing might be tight, but it all pales into insignificance when faced with the raw, menacing power that is Ben Kingsley. Underestimated at the outset, the good pastor turns out to be manipulative, intense and brutal… but simultaneously elegant, charming and forgiving.
It’s a delight watching the Pastor and his wife play the hands they’re dealt, and bizarre meeting characters like the strangely named New Leaf (Chris Conrad), the unfortunately named Texas Ranger, Wesley Walker (Terry O’Quinn), and the appropriately named Sheriff Dolittle (Jim Becker).
At times, Perpetual Grace LTD risks falling over under the weight of its artifice and its insistence on kookiness, but somehow it manages to stay upright through 10 hilarious and intense episodes. It doesn’t hurt that it lets you know right up front that Pastor Brown has something to hide and that finding out what it is is clearly worth being led into temptation for.