TV Review: ‘Hand of God’

Ron Perlman, Dana Delany, Garret Dillahunt, Andre Royo, Alona Tal, Julian Morris, Elizabeth McLaughlin, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Erykah Badu, Hunter Parrish, Jon Tenney, Elaine Tan

As ambitious, premium-style dramas proliferate, it’s easy to confuse dark and nasty with cool and good. Few programs have put the gap between those poles into starker relief than “Hand of God,” a thoroughly ill-conceived and unpleasant series that continues Amazon’s struggle to match its comedy inroads (see “Transparent”) on the dramatic front. Providing a starring vehicle for Ron Perlman, who joins director Marc Forster and writer Ben Watkins among its producers, the show strands a good cast, making the 10-episode run (all of which was made available) feel less like a gripping mystery than a grueling endurance contest.

Viewers are spared the worst of the brutal act that sets the entire story in motion, but are treated to endless references to it. Perlman plays Pernell Harris, the powerful judge and influential heir in the fictional town of San Vicente, Calif. When the show begins, his son PJ lies in a coma, the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, after having watched his wife, Jocelyn (Alona Tal), raped repeatedly in front of him.

Having already suffered in unimaginable ways, Jocelyn wants to take her husband off life support. But Pernell objects and fights her at every turn. Obviously wracked by guilt (for reasons that belatedly become clear), he is lured in by a money-grubbing young pastor (Julian Morris) with a shady past, exploiting how Pernell clings to the hope that his son will miraculously awaken. And with that push, Pernell begins to experience visions that he thinks will lead him toward who was responsible, since the culprit has never been caught.

Conveniently, Pernell finds an instrument to help him act on what he says as these divine messages: a former white supremacist, KD (Garret Dillahunt), who has, too, found Jesus. After KD passes through his court, Pernell convinces him of serve as his personal avenger, violently investigating the cryptic signs both men believe the Almighty is conveying.

All this would be less head-scratching if the central character managed to hold things together and put on a brave face to the world. But his behavior becomes increasingly erratic and bizarre, much to the chagrin of his tough-as-nails wife (Dana Delany); the high-class prostitute (Emayatzy Corinealdi) Pernell regularly frequents; and, last but not least, the town mayor (“The Wire’s” Andre Royo), who desperately needs Pernell to assist in pushing through a major construction project — unfortunately, the plot brings “True Detective 2” to mind — so much so that nary an episode goes by when he doesn’t use the expression “concrete pour.”

For “Hand of God” to have a chance at working, in other words, would require some finesse about Pernell’s mental state. Yet as written and played, subtlety is an early casualty, and it’s hard to see a scenario where the judge wouldn’t be committed, no matter how important he is to the local community, instead of being repeatedly indulged when he mutters, “I need justice for PJ.”

With all the grit and gravel he brings to such pronouncements, Perlman (a far cry from “Hellboy” mode) might actually be a more natural fit for Dillahunt’s part. Ultimately, it’s the writing that handcuffs the cast, with Delany in particular — despite frequent opportunities to bare her claws — deserving better coming on the heels of “The Comedians,” another, albeit very different show in which she portrayed the wife to a wealthy middle-aged guy in the throes of existential angst.

“Hand of God” should benefit, somewhat, from the ability to binge it, if only due to curiosity as to whether Watkins (whose credits include “Burn Notice”) and company actually have a payoff pitch. But when all’s said and done, the finish isn’t any more satisfying than the laborious hike to get there. And in terms of identifying where this Amazon drama veered off course, the devil can be found in more than just the details.

Popular on Variety

TV Review: 'Hand of God'

(Series; Amazon, Fri. Sept. 4)

Production: Filmed in Los Angeles by Blue Monday Prods., 2Dux2 and Link.

Crew: Executive producers, Marc Forster, Jeff King, Ron Perlman, Ben Watkins, Brian Wilkins; co-executive producers, Becky Hartman Edwards, Mark Hudis, Jillian Kugler; director, Forster; writer, Watkins; camera, Matthias Koenigswieser; production designer, Jon Billington; editor, Martin Nicholson; music, Marc Streitenfeld; casting, Kerry Barden, Paul Schnee. 65 MIN.

Cast: Ron Perlman, Dana Delany, Garret Dillahunt, Andre Royo, Alona Tal, Julian Morris, Elizabeth McLaughlin, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Erykah Badu, Hunter Parrish, Jon Tenney, Elaine Tan

More Digital

  • T.J. Dillashaw, right, kicks Cody Garbrandt

    Disney Plans UFC Broadcast for FX

    UFC matches will return to FX  – but not on a permanent basis. ESPN has been showing preliminary bouts to UFC pay-per-view events for the last while on ESPN and ESPN2, and then showing the main card on its ESPN+ subscription video service. In September, the early lineup will air on FX, which the UFC [...]

  • fundo logo

    Google‘s Area 120 Is Testing Fundo, a Crowdfunding Service for Creators (EXCLUSIVE)

    Google’s skunkworks lab Area 120 has been quietly testing an events-centric crowdfunding service for YouTubers, Variety has learned. Called Fundo, the service allows creators to invite their fans to virtual meet & greet sessions and other paid online events. A Google spokesperson confirmed the testing in a statement provided to Variety: “One of the many [...]

  • Telling Lies - Logan Marshall-Green

    Sam Barlow's 'Telling Lies' Government-Surveillance Thriller Game Sets Release Date

    After more than two years in the works, “Telling Lies” — the investigative thriller from acclaimed game creator Sam Barlow — is ready to take the stage. The game, produced with and released by Annapurna Interactive, will be available next Friday, Aug. 23, via Steam and Apple’s Mac and iOS app stores. “Telling Lies” will [...]

  • YouTube logo

    YouTube Will Stop Letting Copyright Holders Seize Revenue via Manual Claims on Very Short Music Clips

    YouTube is pushing back against overzealous copyright policing by music companies. Starting in mid-September, the video giant will forbid copyright holders from making manual claims to commandeer revenue generated by YouTube videos that include very short music clips (e.g., five seconds of a song) or “unintentional” music (like music from passing cars). “One concerning trend [...]

  • Chelsea Handler memoir book buy online

    Chelsea Handler Bonds With Alexa in iHeartRadio Smart Speaker Promo

    iHeartRadio has teamed up with Amazon to promote Chelsea Handler’s podcast “Life Will Be The Death Of Me.” Beginning this Thursday, users of Amazon’s Echo smart speaker and other devices with Alexa built-in can opt to get their mornings started with Handler cracking jokes and exchanging banter with the smart assistant. Users simply have to [...]

  • David Messinger, Activision Blizzard

    Activision Blizzard Hires CAA Veteran David Messinger as CMO

    Activision Blizzard tapped David Messinger, a former 15-plus-year veteran of CAA, as its first corporate-wide chief marketing officer. Messinger, based in Santa Monica, reports to Coddy Johnson, Activision Blizzard’s president and COO. It’s the first time the video-game company has appointed a CMO who will oversee the global marketing operations across all of Activision Blizzard [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content