It’s 1972 in Memphis. Soldiers are coming home from Vietnam to a public who is ashamed of them and filled with hate for what the military did. It’s a tense, fluid, depressing time in American life. One young man in particular finds it hard to get work and readjust to civilian life. This is the story of Cinemax’s newest series, QUARRY, which premieres tonight.

I’ve reviewed a number of Cinemax pilots over the years, but seldom found one I wanted to watch past episode one. They tend to be bloody pulp fiction, more concerned with violence and gore than storytelling. Or, even when they have a decent narrative, they still have to dress it up in the trappings of most of their fare.

QUARRY is the exception. Yes, there are certainly some violent things that happen, you will see some of the crimson liquid spilled, and death, revenge, hatred hang in the air. And there is even some gratuitous, though not unwelcome, nudity. But that’s not the focus of the series. Those are supporting elements, not the center of every other scene as the first hour plays out.

We are introduced to Mac Conway (Logan Marshall-Green, Dark Blue, Prometheus) pretty early on, the protagonist described in the introductory paragraph. Mac is glad to be back in the arms of his wife, Joni (Jodi Balfour, Bomb Girls), not letting his buddy’s teasing allegations of infidelity dampen his enthusiasm to see her again. But even with his loving gal, he finds it difficult to secure employment, and his interactions with members of the public become combative at times as soon as they figure out he’s a veteran, and he’s haunted by what he did overseas. Thus, Mac finds himself tempted by a less than noble calling that would pay plenty to support his two-person family unit as well as take some of the financial stress and pressure off.

Enter The Broker (Peter Mullan, Top of the Lake, War Horse) and his henchmen, Karl (Edoardo Ballerini, Boardwalk Empire) and Buddy (Damon Herriman, Justified), who want to make Mac a contract killer. This is where the typical Cinemax stuff comes into play, with assassination and dangerous missions entering the plot.

To QUARRY’s credit, it lets Mac wrestle with the morality of The Broker’s offer. Yes, Mac killed people in Vietnam, and yes, as his friend argues, people who have a contract out on them are probably bad people. But even when a large sum of money is on the table, Mac doesn’t want to do this; he is better than this. And while we know he will eventually give in (otherwise there would be no show), the way in which the character gets to that point feels more natural and less forced than what I see in most players on this network.

There are also some additional side stories involving Joni and the wife of Mac’s army buddy, Ruth (Nikki Amuka-Bird, Luther), as is necessary to keep a weekly series going for any length of time. These are less important, but do connect to the more central arc.

But Mac’s journey is what QUARRY is about, and by making this program a more complex character study, rather than just a shoot-‘em-up, I am intrigued. Probably not enough to subscribe to the network, but enough to check out series on its own when it becomes available to view independently. However, if you already have access to Cinemax, this raises the quality level of what the channel generally offers, so I would absolutely recommend setting that season pass and enjoying a modern, well-made tale, at least going by the pilot.

QUARRY premieres tonight at 10/9c on Cinemax.