What happens when a closed case comes undone? A smart whodunit and a superior psychological thriller, “Rectify” (8 p.m., Sundance) deserves a large audience. It will probably get a smart one. Convicted of rape and murder, Daniel Holden (Aden Young) spent 19 years in prison, most of them on death row awaiting execution. After DNA evidence appears to exonerate him, he returns to his shattered, confused family in the small town of Paulie, Ga., which is filled with friends of the murder victim — who still want him behind bars. Chief among them is Sen. Roland Foulkes (Michael O’Neill), whose prosecution of Holden launched his political career. The local sheriff (J.D. Evermore) doesn’t seem too pleased with Holden’s release either, and most of the scuttlebutt at the coffee shop involves conversations about returning him to prison, evidence be damned.
The drama also involves glimpses of Holden’s prison past; he learned to cope by meditating and trying to ignore, or at least transcend, the passage of time. As he explains in a haunted and halting manner, those skills that got him through his incarceration are not really applicable to the hectic pace of liberty.
“Rectify” does a particularly good job with its scenes at the home front, where Holden feels like an intruder after two decades away. The pilot episode’s lightest moments show him trying to navigate a DVD player and catch up on films from the last 20 years, starting with “Dazed and Confused,” a title that sums up his mental and spiritual state.
If you like smart, rewarding television drama, or complain about the dearth thereof, you have only yourself to blame if you miss “Rectify.”
• Lily Tomlin narrates the documentary “An Apology to Elephants” (6 p.m., HBO), a plea for more humane treatment of jungle animals in captivity.
Tonight’s other highlights
• A news story goes viral in the worst way on “Bones” (7 p.m., Fox).
• The mansion is besieged on “The Following” (8 p.m., Fox).
• ”Bizarre Foods America” (8 p.m., Travel) visits Portland, Ore.
• “Top Gear” (8 p.m., BBC America) glances back at the past year’s best clips..
• Miles and Charlie bond on “Revolution” (9 p.m., NBC).
• Dylan makes Norman an offer on “Bates Motel” (9 p.m., A&E;).