Aidan Smith's TV review: American Rust (Sky Atlantic), Yellowjackets (Sky Atlantic), Elves (Netflix)

If an actor’s career is a “journey” – and many would be unable to resist describing it as such – then Jeff Daniels’ dog-van from Dumb and Dumber must by now be a tiny speck in the rear-view mirror.

He’s left it all behind: dog-van, Jim Carrey and their epicly idiotic road movie where a state trooper would holler “pull over” for Daniels to reply: “No, it’s a cardigan, but thanks for noticing.”

Another of his memorable lines was: “According to my map, we’ve only gone about four inches.”

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The distance he’s travelled for recent magisterial TV roles as FBI chiefs and news anchors seems vast, but who knows, maybe playing a complete and utter berk first was useful.

If you go down to the woods today you might meet thisIf you go down to the woods today you might meet this
If you go down to the woods today you might meet this

Now he’s drinking Kate Winslet’s Rolling Rock. You’ll remember in Mare of Easttown that Winslet would pull a bottle of her beer of choice from the fridge after a hard day’s policing in the Pennsylvania Rust Belt.

Daniels does the same thing in American Rust (Sky Atlantic, ) playing Del Harris who’s the chief of police in fictional Buell, just as hard-bitten and plaid-shirted as Easttown and probably Trump-trumpeting too. I don’t know if his show will match Winslet’s one, which was exceptional, but this is a promising start.

Harris must consume a busy cocktail of drugs for post-traumatic stress disorder from serving in Iraq, but as the local judge reminds him in his favourite bar: “We’re all on something.”

Buell is a poor place and when folks can’t afford the bills anymore, there’s a house sale. At one of these, the auctioneer is unnerved by the sight of so many guns.

Juliette Lewis in Yellowjackets.Juliette Lewis in Yellowjackets.
Juliette Lewis in Yellowjackets.

Harris confirms: “Showing off your deer rifle – that’s just one of the social practices in this part of the state.”

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Amid all the gloom Harris is sweet on Grace Poe (Maura Tierney, the cheated-on wife in The Affair) who works as a seamstress, shacks up in a trailer home and has a perisher of an ex, not quite out of the picture.

Upping his game, Harris wonders if the favourite bar does carry-out champagne, only to be told: “If you want the French stuff, move to France.”

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Anti-freeze or not, the romantic evening at the trailer home progresses well, but is interrupted when Harris gets a call about a fatal assault in a car-park.

Maura Tierney and Jeff Daniels in American Rust.Maura Tierney and Jeff Daniels in American Rust.
Maura Tierney and Jeff Daniels in American Rust.

Suddenly he’s arresting Grace’s son. Then he’s helping the lad escape prison. Then a few months later, after another killing, he’s risking all for the love of a good woman by hiding evidence.

Two more new dramas this week and they both offer up dangling effigies in dark, dripping woods. In the countdown to what could be another compromised Christmas, I think we’re being scared into staying indoors.

Yellowjackets (Sky Atlantic) is pretty scary when a girl runs barefoot and screaming through a frozen forest until being boobytrapped and impaled on spikes. And that’s just the opening scene.

To take my mind off the horrors – there’s lots of gore – I’m thinking of Dumb and Dumber again and the intellectual discourse, which includes: “I expected the Rocky Mountains to be a little rockier than this.”

If you go down to the woods today you might meet thisIf you go down to the woods today you might meet this
If you go down to the woods today you might meet this

I reckon this is where we are here.

In 1996 a plane carrying a high school girls’ soccer team crashes in the wilderness. The series flips between then and the present as the survivors, who’ve vowed never to speak about what happened beyond the party line “we starved, scavenged and prayed for 19 months until they finally found us”, suddenly have to confront why they never, ever made it to nationals.

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A reporter is digging around and offering Shauna Sheridan a seven-figure book deal to tell the full story. Played by Melanie Lynskey (great in Togetherness a few years back), Shauna is bored by her suburban drudgery, but at least she must like rabbits, having filled her home with ceramic bunnies.

Then … oh no, she’s just clubbed one that’s been chewing up her garden.

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The girls, grown-up, also include Christina Ricci and Juliette Lewis, the latter’s character having been in and out of detox and is soon travelling to the urgently-called reunion with a rifle in the boot of her car.

Another promise the survivors made was to keep low profiles, but one has just decided to run for state senate. But not all the team lived to bury the tale.

Where is the captain who got to third base with her boyfriend (not a sporting switch to baseball)? And where is the devoutly religious one? Lost in the mountains, exactly how “starving” did the others get?

By contrast, Elves (Netflix) is not scary at all.

If you grew up with Pogle’s Wood, as I did, then the snuffy little things lurking in the moss in this Danish-made, Christmas-set, holiday-from-hell thriller have got nothing on those expressionless faces with the blackest, deadest eyes in the early Oliver Postgate show.

Mind you, the elves, if that’s what they are, appear to be able to eviscerate an entire cow within seconds. Did I forget to mention that?

Mum, Dad and the two bickering kids have escaped the city for a remote island on the Danish archipelago.

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The unwelcoming locals don’t say much beyond “you should have stayed on the coastal road”, sometimes modified to “next time take the coastal road”.

Unfortunately the series is dubbed into English, which dulls down dramatic moments. It’s OK, Netflix, we’re fine with subtitles, and have been since the Ingmar Bergman season at the school film society all those years ago.

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