American Rust Season 1 Review – Really puts the slow in slow burn

Season 1

Episode Guide

Episode 1 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 2 -| Review Score – 2/5
Episode 3 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 4 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 5 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 6 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 7 -| Review Score – 3/5
Episode 8 -| Review Score – 4/5
Episode 9 -| Review Score – 3.5/5


There are slow burns and then there’s American Rust. This enticing murder mystery is going to be a real marmite show; you’ll either love it or hate it. Even for me, covering this show every week, the myriad of different emotions I’ve felt about this must be similar to those watching.

American Rust is certainly an interesting series though and it has a moody, grim atmosphere that’s undeniably palpable. At the same time, Rust has a tendency to meander off into weird subplots that don’t go anywhere and simply work to pad the run-time out.

The story itself though revolves around the small town of Buell, which is overseen by grizzled chief of police, Del Harris. He’s forced to oversee the murder of a former police officer, with two boys as the prime suspects. Those boys happen to be Isaac English and Billy Poe. With it unclear exactly which one is responsible, this investigation is made all the more complicated by Del’s personal life.

He’s romantically involved with Grace, Billy’s mum, and also has a bit of a drug problem too. Not only that, he’s got more than a few skeletons in the closet that threaten to spill out at any time.

With questionable ethical behaviour, Harris finds himself right in the thick of the action. While investigating the case, he keeps a watchful eye on Billy, not wanting him to get arrested. While this in itself sets up a nice conflict for the season ahead, American Rust doesn’t exclusively focus on this mystery. In fact, some episodes just abandon this completely to explore some of its numerous subplots.

Grace Poe works at the local factory and tries to rally the women together to unionize. Isaac skips town and galivants off on a journey across the country to parts unknown. There’s a whole episode dedicated to a wedding. And a further episode still tackling Del Harris paying back a debt in Pittsburgh. While these storylines are lovely and all, they don’t do anything to progress the story forward. As a result, the series feels painfully slow.

That’s a problem too because when we finally do get some answers, they actually aren’t that shocking. Everything feels pretty telegraphed from day one, instead turning the focus to the characters and how they deal with this situation.

Thankfully, American Rust has some pretty good acting all round to offset this, highlighted by Jeff Daniels’ excellent performance as Del Harris. He does a fantastic job bringing his character to life, with just the right amount of gritty determination and tired expressions to make him a character you can root for, despite his questionable behaviour.

As mentioned earlier, the atmosphere is where American Rust excels. A lot of that can be attributed to Marty Beller, who composes the whole show and manages to produce a moody, uncompromising musical portrait of this small town. The guitar strums work a treat, as do the minor key string pieces.

As a binge-watch I’d imagine this holds up better than watching one a week. The slow pacing and the meandering subplots do not do American Rust any favours and at nine episodes, one can’t help but feel this could easily have been a tight-knit six and not lose anything.

American Rust is undoubtedly an enjoyable watch, despite its flaws, and the enticing story and mystery should be enough to see you through until the end. Just be prepared for quite the slog to get to the good stuff.

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  • Verdict - 6.5/10

2 thoughts on “American Rust Season 1 Review – Really puts the slow in slow burn”

  1. This mini-series is based on the book “American Rust” by Philipp Meyer. I have to say the book was really awesome, but as in many cases the director of the mini-series took liberties with the source material. Here’s one small example: readers of the book knew in the first couple chapters who actually killed Pete Novick, so it wasn’t a mystery at all. The sad, desperate characters and the setting of the rusted-out western Pennsylvania steel mill towns – that was the story for Philipp Meyer. For whatever reason the director of this mini-series didn’t see it that way. In spite of this flaw, the acting of Jeff Daniels, Moira Tierney and other main characters make it a memorable experience. Recommended for anyone who has a connection to western Pennsylvania. If you’re disappointed in the mini-series, perhaps give the book a read.

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