You need only watch one frame of Netflix’s Bloodline to know its location. The atmosphere and detail of its Florida Key setting are so perfectly executed that its as if the series were being performed by a company of actors who had relocated to Florida to prepare in their Method fashion. You can feel the salt water spray against you, and the oppressive heat and humidity press into your chest. The show feels like it requires dark alleys and neon-tinted streets, but it’s shady actions and family drama are ironically lit by the Florida sun.
The acting and atmosphere carry the pilot as the creative team sets the mood. As to the overall greatness of the series, only time will tell which way this goes.
Bloodline details the exploits of the Rayburns, a local family who own a highly sought-after bed and breakfast in the Florida Keys. As we begin the series, the family is gathering to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the successful hotel. At the head of the table are Robert (Sam Shepard) and Sally (Sissy Spacek) followed by their children: the local sheriff John (Kyle Chandler), their daughter Meg (Linda Cardellini), the party man Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz), and the black sheep Danny (Ben Mendelsohn). Everyone seems to be dreading the addition of Danny into the mix, including Danny himself. Much of the episode is spent with the family catching up and deciding whether or not Danny should move back into town.
Interspersed with the family drama are scenes of two characters: one struggling to hide the other’s dead body. Even saying that is a minor spoiler, although it does come early in the show. These scenes, much like the interrogation scenes of Showtime’s The Affair, serve to propel us through the narrative. Much like a traditional Southern Gothic piece of fiction, the crime is window dressing to the real center of the story – the intense family drama.
The family dynamics consume much of the first hour, giving the actors free reign to define and draw their characters. Most successful are Shepard (in a role that admittedly feels like every other character he’s played), Butz, and Chandler, but everyone is assured and top-notch. Personally, I wanted more out of Sissy Spacek given her significant talents and relative absence from either the big or small screen of late. I’m hoping, as the series progresses, her character will loom larger over the proceedings.
Overall, I’m very impressed with the pilot, but the atmospheric tension really doesn’t seem to fit the bingeable Netflix series model. I’m not sure I so quickly want to burn through the series. As someone recently said, I’d rather sip it than drink straight from the hose.
And that’s not a criticism of the show. Rather, it’s a testament to its success at creating a perfectly tense, dense atmosphere. I will return to Bloodline, but I need a little while to wash the grime from my soul.