PASADENA — With thousands of hours of TV to choose from every week, new shows must find a way to attract viewers in a different way, such as with unique characters and settings.
Actor Martin Henderson sees those elements in his new Sundance Channel series "The Red Road," from Aaron Guzikowski. Henderson's character, Sheriff Harold Jensen, tries to keep his family together when it is threatened by a cover-up to protect his recovering alcoholic wife (Julianne Nicholson) all while dealing with growing problems with the Ramapo Mountain Indian tribe who live in an area between New York and New Jersey.
"Aaron's created not just characters but a whole world you can't define in the traditional sense. It's a world that seems foreign, although it's in America. I'm not from America, but I think I speak for 99% of the people who do live here that they don't know the community that inspired this show really exists," Henderson says. "You are instantly looking at a world that's not Manhattan. It's not the Deep South or the West Coast. It has its own rules."
Henderson's character is the conduit to this world for the audience. He faces unique challenges because of his family and where he works, but at the heart of Jensen is the archetype police officer. Henderson promises that while his role will seem familiar at first, as the series goes on, more and deeper layers will be revealed.
This is a guy with plenty of hidden skeletons. That's why Henderson was so attracted to the project.
He has been professionally acting long enough — the New Zealand native's credits include the "Off the Map" TV show and "Smokin' Aces" film — to see how most characters are so two-dimensional that the audience has them figured out before the closing credits of the first show.
"The ambiguity and duality is what makes this compelling to watch — and hopefully to play. I don't know from scene to scene how I'm going to react to a situation, whether it's keeping my family together, preserving my reputation, paying the mortgage. … You just don't know on which side of good and bad he's going to fall," Henderson says. "As an actor, you're constantly trying to figure out where that line is, and it makes it very interesting to play because you're not just playing the good guy."
A big part of the uncertainties comes from a deal the sheriff makes with Phillip Kopus (Jason Momoa), a member of the Ramapo Mountain Indian tribe. This connection opens up an examination of present-day Native Americans. Henderson is from Down Under, but he can relate to the plight of the indigenous people having seen a similar situation in his home country with a native people called the Maori.
That understanding adds to the elements Henderson believes will set this new show apart from others.
"The Red Road": 9 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 27, Sundance Channel
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, email@example.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.