Vindication, Season 1 [2019] (Series Review)

Plot Summary

Detective Travis always wants to bring the criminals of his small Texas town to justice. However, he’s not always right, and he can’t do it all on his own, despite what he believes about himself. Through every twist and turn of each case, the detective learns something new about himself and about life, but the ultimate challenge of his work and life involves his daughter and her checkered past. Thus, when she comes to stay with him and his wife, he’s sure she’s got something to hide. However, he could have never foreseen the end result of this.

Production Quality (1.5 points)
For a relatively low-budget series, Vindication is definitely trying when it comes to production. The video quality is great throughout, and the camera work is respectable. Sets, locations, and props are mostly fine, but the audio is sometimes too quiet. At first, there’s basically no soundtrack, but this tends to improve as the series goes on. While there are some creative story overlays and plot criss-crossing throughout, the editing can be fairly choppy at times. Sometimes, scenes start and stop at awkward places, and some portions seem unnecessary. However, this element also tends to improve with time. In the end, this is an average production that shows commendable effort.

Plot and Storyline Quality (.5 point)
What an absolute roller coaster of a storyline. It’s difficult to know where to begin with this; in the first two-thirds of the series, many of the cases are either fairly unrealistic or extremely simplistic. Some contain improbable circumstances just for the sake, it seems, of being unique and tricky. Others contain lots of coincidences and convenient turns; many of them include partially or mostly inappropriate content seemingly just because. While being edgy and realistic is a good quality to have in Christian entertainment (rather than white-washing humanity), there’s a fine line to walk between authentic and trashy. As a side note, some of the ‘crimes’ that are actually ‘twists’ are substantially questionable and borderline ‘vindicate’ the wrong types of behavior. Elsewhere, the suspense elements don’t seem to jive with reality even though there are some interesting psychological elements throughout. Besides the head-scratching partially objectionable content included, the treatment of police ethics and criminal procedure throughout the series would be offensive to many real police officers. Rules are callously broken with no resource, and while it would be one thing to portray a rogue cop in a negative light for the purpose of being realistic, it’s another thing to downright condone unethical practices in the name of doing the right thing, including mixing personal vendettas against certain people and in favor of family members with police work. The detectives’ time is spent on petty misunderstandings that would likely draw the attention of higher authorities due to their frivolous use of resources and questionable methods of arresting people with little reasonable suspicion. These two major problem areas (inappropriate content and offensive portrayal of procedure) are almost enough to totally derail the series from the get-go, especially when these issues are combined with a lot of blank and empty dialogue and cheap Christian messaging throughout the first two-thirds of the season. Odd portrayals of women and minorities throughout the series are also concerns to contend with, but the recurring subplot between the main character and his daughter keep the narrative on life support long enough to get to the final two episodes of the season, which almost save the writers from themselves. It’s clear that the entire series was made for this storyline, and the daughter is the only notably interesting character in the entire creation. The last two episodes are so starkly different from the other ones (except for the disregard for jurisdiction and other questionable practices in the name of being police with agendas) that it seems like an entirely different idea, yet the thinly-developed characters still shine through due to their lack of depth in the first eight episodes. Had they been properly built in the first two-thirds of the season via real cases and authentic circumstances, we would be looking at a totally different concept. As they are, the last two installments include very effective flashbacks that take a good look at hard issues effecting many people. In doing so, the final ‘villain’ is fairly realistic, and the partial conclusion of the subplot between the father and daughter is mostly authentic and believable. Nevertheless, despite the acceptable ending, it doesn’t cover over the multitude of sins committed by the rest of the storyline.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)
Acting isn’t a glaring problem throughout the series even if many cast members come off as very robotic and overly practiced. However, this is likely not a talent problem or a coaching issue because the lines they are given are usually uninspiring. This is evident since acting seems to improve as dialogue gets a slight upgrade in the latter third of the season. Although makeup is terrible at first, this seems to get better too. The key standout performance from every episode she’s in comes from Emma Elle Roberts as she sets herself apart as a truly talented actress with potential beyond this series. In the end, this is neither the best nor the worst acting from a Christian season.

Continuity Quality (1.5 points)
As previously mentioned, the only significant continuity throughout season one of Vindication involves the storylines of the central character’s family, especially his interactions with his daughter and her checkered past. However, these recurring subplots are fairly good in the midst of a mostly typical recurring crime drama style. Still, it would have been preferable to see some other interwoven subplots that were worthwhile to follow.

Conclusion

The creators of Vindication are trying to do something, but there are too many elements of season one that are way off base. The use of edgy content is commendable for a crime series, but it would be nice to see better standards of propriety when it comes to dealing with sensitive topics. For another, a lot of significant research needs to be conducted before anyone creates a drama centered around criminal procedure and police work because it can be easy to make careless mistakes. Further, there needs to be a better look at mental and behavioral health issues beyond simplifying them and reducing them to trite Christian sayings and prayers. In the end, this concept may work better as a larger-scale federal investigative storyline rather than confining it to a small town with unusual half-mysteries. To summarize, the creators have potential somewhere in here, but there’s too much blocking out the light.

Final Rating: 5 out of 14 points

Touched by Grace {The Senior Prank} (Movie Review)

Plot Summary

When a high school class is given the decision to vote for a ‘popular’ girl for homecoming queen or a Grace, a girl with Down’s syndrome, the latter wins in a shocking upset.  One of the ‘popular’ girl’s friends, Cara, accidentally befriends Grace and her friend Brandon as they try to find Grace a partner for the homecoming dance.  Cara finds herself torn as her ‘popular’ friends try to ostracize Grace and as she begins developing feelings for Brandon.  In the end, the entire school will be faced with the reality that special need people are just like everyone else and they should be treated thus.

 

Production Quality (1.5 points)

With an obviously limited budget, Touched by Grace sometimes does the best it can with what it has, but other times it does not.  The sets are quite limited, but this is not entirely a negative issue due to the small scale plot.  They are realistic, which is important.  The camera work and video quality are quite good for a production this small.  The soundtrack is average; we would have liked to see more here.  There is much positive to say about this small time production, but the biggest issue is the editing.  There is virtually no editing present in Touched by Grace.  Too many scenes are long and drawn out, making for a disappointing experience.  All in all, there are both positive and negative aspects to this film, which is very frustrating.

Plot and Storyline Quality (1 point)

There was so much potential in this movie.  It’s based on a great idea and has believable elements.  It could have been very touching had more time been spent on character development.  Sometimes the dialogue is meaningful, and other times it’s not.  There is far too much understatement in this film; sometimes things happen for no reason.  A common mistake in Christian film is overstating the obvious, but Touched by Grace has the opposite problem.  More needed to be emphasized regarding the important issue of treating special needs people as equals.  Where this movie could have been heartfelt, it just came off as somber.  The main redeeming quality is the effective end that the movie was obviously written for.  The end was powerful enough to make this movie something great had the remainder of the plot been adequate.  In short, it’s a disappointing plot and one that desperately needs a remake.

Acting Quality (1.5 points)

With a largely amateur cast, the actors and actresses sometimes come off as awkward, but other times they shine.  Ben Davies as a high school student doesn’t really work and he definitely needed more coaching.  On the flipside, the casting of special needs people was a score as they were some of the best cast members.  Overall, this cast wasn’t bad, but it could have been a winning cast with better coaching.

Conclusion

Touched by Grace receives half of an x-factor point for presenting an important issue in a semi-meaningful way.  Overall, while this movie was sometimes heartwarming, it was also frustrating to watch, knowing just how much potential it could have achieved.  This is not one of those Christian productions that has no heart or care behind it.  We truly believe that the creators sincerely cared about this issue and wanted to make a movie about it.  Their heart was in the right place, but their film inexperience derailed it.  Inexperience is probably not their fault either—it’s a tough world out there for independent Christian filmmakers.  This is why it’s all the more important for Christians to come together and pool their resources to produce quality over quantity.  Just think of what would have happened if two stupid Christian movies were defunded and the money was given to this one.

 

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 10 points