Hidden Gems: Why you should watch Rogue

On the third birthday of TV Fails, I’m introducing a new format where I write about shows currently on television that aren’t well known but very much worth watching. It’s an attempt to make my site interesting to a broader audience; please write a comment and let me know if you like it (or if you don’t!)

Warning: this article contains (mild-ish) spoilers for Audience’s drama Rogue. Read on if you dare.

Canada certainly has more to offer than just endless forests, bears and tax cuts for the movie industry. Some of my favourite shows in the last years weren’t from the US but from “that country in the north”. Continuum was a gripping, original and well-produced time-travel show which started more or less as a procedural before improving into horizontal storytelling. It might have been a bit long in the end, but I never really got bored with it. 19-2 is the northern counterpart to Southland, toning down on the action-cam style but not on the personal stories.

But the most surpring show to me was Rogue (Audience Network) which started as a crime drama about a female detective who mingled (and had sex with) with gangsters in order to find out who killed her son. The first two runs, but especially the freshman season, were so filled with sex scenes, unneccessary violence and swearing it put HBO dramas to shame. The storytelling and gritty characters were the saving grace but I could imagine many viewers were turned off by the rather gross display of human deprativty.

However, with season 3, it all changed significantly: the lead actress exited the show without much fanfare (her character got killed and put into a dumpster) and the story started to focus on Ethan Kelly and his gang of former soldiers. Now Ethan is quite the difference to Grace, the rogue cop: he’s a smart, good looking ex-soldier who doesn’t really want too much trouble but always ends up exactly there. He’s clearly not a good guy and his past is nothing anybody should be proud of but you’ll still root for him since he’s not really a troublemaker on his own. Unless he’s provoked, that is, but since he can manage to keep calm even in bad situations, that usually just ends bad for the other guy. Unfortunately, whatever Ethan starts to turn his life around tends to go very wrong very quickly, and it’s not always entirely his fault. Before you know it, the seemingly simple story becomes a mess of betrayal, lies and ultimately even murder.

Of special note is the character of Marty Stein, a cunning lawyer with deeply questionable reputation, expertly portrayed by Richard Schiff (The West Wing). Not only is Marty a total crook, he’s also very impatient, extremely cynical, and tends to blame his clients if anything goes wrong. He deems himself so far above the law that nobody in Chicago can touch him, and that’s not even that far off from the truth. His name puts the fear into about anyone. Marty can talk himself out of almost anything and somehow gain in the process. There are plenty of villainous types on this show but despite looking like a friendly old man, Marty puts them all to shame. He lives in a mansion with a woman he tends to treat like a servant but who also doesn’t seem to mind. It’s never quite clear if she’s supposed to be his wife, and it doesn’t seem like he loves her; they’re living in kind of symbiosis where both depend on another no matter what. When she finally leaves him at the end of season 3, he’s devastated – it’s probably his lowest point, although he comes back with a vengeance.

Every character, from the lowlifes Marty tends to deal with to the police investigating him, his clients and of course Ethan, are just so full of life it’s a joy to behold. There’s no phoned-in dialogue here, everything, even the smallest conversation, is gripping and gritty. Yes, there’s swearing – Ethan sure curses a lot – but the sex scenes got dropped completely and the amount of violence got toned down quite a bit.

The great surprise was when season 3 was suddenly resumed about a year after it originally ended. Indeed, the story arc wasn’t entirely played out in the finale, so there was plenty of reason to simply continue with the plot without starting a new season. It just came so out of the blue that probably nobody expected it. It all ended with Ethan facing down the barrel of a gun, and it certainly didn’t look like Rogue could go on unless they’d drop Ethan as well.

Boy, was I wrong. Season 4 started three weeks ago and suddenly, everything’s still possible. Instead of continuing where the story ended in the season 3 finale, the producers decided to turn back time and show us what happened to Ethan during the four months before his possible demise. This brilliant idea enables the story to simply continue with the same set of excellently written characters but also introduce interesting new ones, like a extremely corrupt cop who’s now pestering Ethan. Most importantly, we learn what Ethan was up to in the four months after he stole the Stradivari violin and what he did with it.

And again, Ethan’s dropped into a world of hurt despite trying to do something proper with his life (although considering how he got the means to do so “proper” isn’t the correct term). To aptly quote the crooked cop he runs into the first night of his new life: “Welcome to a world of fuck!”.

Rogue is one of these shows were you just don’t expect anything from it, maybe get turned off from the constant sex and swearing only to be dragged right into an engrossing tour de force you can’t stop watching. Even though it may seem weird when the original premise is turned on its head two seasons in, that move was actually for the best and just shows how creative the series’ creators are. The actors – from the first billed down to the no-names – are all top shelf as well and manage to deliver believeable portraits of their characters. To counter all the grit, there’s plenty of amusing scenes, especially when Marty Stein explodes. If you can find the time, be sure to watch this hidden gem of a show – there’s nothing quite like it and unless you hate crime dramas with a passion, you won’t be disappointed. However, it might help to start with season 3 as its here when the show really gets going and the previous story is mostly disregarded.

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