Every time you think “Hand of God” has found its groove, the whole thing goes completely kerflooey. Nonetheless, you’ll probably keep watching all 10 epsiodes, which became available on Amazon Friday. “Hand of God” may be a mess, but it’s a compelling mess – enough of the time anyway.
The pilot for the series, created by Ben Watkins (“Burn Notice”), was among the better trial balloons lofted last year in Amazon’s gimmicky audience testing process. The story begins with a powerful judge named Pernell Harris (Ron Perlman) standing naked in a municipal fountain in San Vicente, Calif., and speaking in tongues.
Some say the judge is off his rocker, others blame his recent involvement with a cultish church called the Hand of God, but everyone agrees he has had more than his share of burdens to bear. His son, PJ (Johnny Ferro), was forced to watch his as his wife, Jocelyn (Alona Tai), was brutally raped. Later, PJ tried to blow his brains out, but ended up in a coma, where he remains as the story opens.
Harris, his wife, Crystal (Dana Delany), and his daughter-in-law visit PJ regularly, but the judge believes his son will regain consciousness because that’s what he’s been told. He’s been hearing his comatose son giving him instructions on how to find the man who raped his wife. If the judge can find justice for PJ, his son will wake up.
Questions about the judge’s sanity could impact a big development deal the city’s scheming mayor “Bobo” Boston (Andre Royo) is trying to close to line both the city’s coffers and his own pockets. Between the voices his honor is hearing and his association with the Hand of God preacher, Reverend Paul Curtis (Julian Morris), Harris is teetering on the edge of something. He uses his power and position to get access to the police files on the rape case, and forges a relationship with a thoroughly creepy born-again ex-con named Keith “KD” Dennison (Garret Dillahunt) to do his dirty work for him.
All of this is overheated almost to the point of ridiculousness, but time and again, it’s saved by strong performances, especially by Perlman and Dillahunt. Perlman gets to ham it up to a faretheewell and wastes no opportunity to do so. He’s not always believable, mind you, but gosh, he sure is fun to watch.
Dillahunt, once again, displays absolutely uncanny mutability as an actor. It’s hard to imagine that the good-natured dimwit dad on “Raising Hope” and the menacing avenging angel of “Hand of God” are played by the same person. Dillahunt delivers his lines through clenched teeth, his jaw jutting forward, augmented by a pointy beard. He raises the heat and tension level in every one of his scenes.
Other characters may seem almost cartoonish in the early episodes, especially the good Rev. Curtis, an oily pretty boy with a buttery smile who manages to inject a subtle note of sexual seduction into his sermonizing. We know the guy’s a con man, but what we don’t know yet is how close to the edge he’s playing things, much to the displeasure of Alicia Hopkins (Elizabeth McLaughlin) who is in love with the preacher.
Delany is pretty much a weak link here. The role of gutter-mouthed, oversexed, drug-loving Crystal just doesn’t fit very well.
The script is both the show’s saving grace and the primary element keeping “Hand of God” from being better than it is. At times, the pace is beyond lugubrious and the show wallows in dripping atmosphere with little substance.
Despite frequent predictability and other issues, though, we do get pulled into the story. Even if we don’t always believe the characters, or huge swaths of dialogue, we do want answers, to the crimes, yes, but also to whether the judge is a nutcase or the only sane person in San Vicente.
“Hand of God” is streaming now on Amazon Video.