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SundanceTV's The Red Road traffics in a command performance by a Game of Thrones game-changer


Imposing Jason Momoa goes from Game of Thrones to The Red Road. SundanceTV photo

Premiering: Thursday, Feb. 27th at 8 p.m. (central) on SundanceTV
Starring: Jason Momoa, Martin Henderson, Julianne Nicholson, Tama Tunie, Allie Gonino, Annalise Basso, Kiowa Gordon, Zahn McClarnon, Tom Sizemore, Mike Farrell, Lisa Bonet
Produced by: Aaron Guzikowski, Bridget Carpenter, Sarah Condon

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Jason Momoa knows how to cut a figure and glower while doing so.

HBO’s Game of Thrones set him apart as the notably intimidating Khal Drogo, head of the warrior Dothraki tribe until his untoward demise. Now Momoa is back in full swagger as ex-con and current-day drug dealer Phillip Kopus in SundanceTV’s new six-episode series, The Red Road.

The actor and his character exude a command presence throughout the first four hours made available for review. Red Road isn’t extraordinary because of him. But he elevates it above the ordinary during the course of a twisting tale of two clashing factions within the small eastern town of Walpole.

Red Road’s other leading male is Martin Henderson (ABC’s short-lived Off the Map) as a tightly wound cop named Harold Jensen. His wife, Jean (Julianne Nicholson), has never fully recovered from the drowning death of her twin brother. She still hears voices during the course of over-protecting her rebellious teen daughter, Rachel (Allie Gonino), whose kid sister, Kate (Annalise Basso) is still an angel.

Two unsolved crimes are at work here. A New York University student has gone missing in the area, and Red Road quickly reveals what happened to him. While the search is on, an addled Jean drives off in the dark to fetch Rachel, who’s been disobeying parental orders by seeing a young Lenape Mountain Indian known as Junior (Kiowa Gordon). Jean’s vehicle goes bump in the night. And the next morning, a young Lenape boy is hospitalized in critical condition. Cue the cover-up, with Harold Jensen increasingly compromising himself while Lenape protestors cry out for justice and Phillip Kopus sees a great opportunity for blackmail.

“What do you want from me?” Harold asks him.

“You’re gonna have to take it as it comes,” says Phillip, who has evidence against Jean Jensen.

Creator and co-executive producer Aaron Guzikowski says in Sundance publicity materials that he’s “always been fascinated with the idea of children repeating their parents’ mistakes -- that human beings are locked into these ancient patterns, doomed or blessed to do as those before them have.”

The bad seed is most firmly planted in Phillip, whose father, Jack (Tom Sizemore), introduced him to a life of crime. Now he’s doing likewise to his brother, Jr., while Phillip’s and Jr.’s Lenape Indian mother, Marie (Tama Tunie), festers with resentment.

Sizemore, whose drug-soaked, violence-prone personal life has been well-chronicled, is well-suited to play a vicious narcotics lord. But his character is only fleetingly seen in the first four hours, which also provide glimpses of former M*A*S*H star Mike Farrell and Lisa Bonet from The Cosby Show and its spinoff, A Different World.

Farrell plays Jean Jensen’s politician father, David Rogers, who’s clearly hiding or suppressing something. Bonet is attorney Sky Van Der Veen, who’s representing the long underfoot Lenapes.

This is SundanceTV’s second wholly produced original series, following last season’s extraordinary Rectify (scheduled to return this summer). Red Road gets more gripping by the hour, although it still feels like a drop-off whenever Momoa isn’t on screen. He imbues these proceedings with menace and occasional dashes of vulnerability as a willful criminal who’s now too far gone down that path. The series’ other characters have their moments, but Momoa’s always in the moment. And that’s good enough reason to see Red Road to the end.


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