Solid acting can’t save a Family buried in bad writing
There is a worthy drama lurking around ABC’s new drama, The Family, but I’m not sure where it is. Featuring a top-notch cast on a network that lately excels with adult dramas, The Family should be a fine entry into the late night, twisty soap canon. The acting might be solid, but the execution of The Family is as lost as its central character.
Adam Warren disappeared 10 years ago, and the case was thought to be solved. His mother, Claire (Joan Allen), is the mayor of the fictional town of Red Pines, Maine, and Adam went missing at the beginning of her political career. A local pedophile was arrested and charged with Adam’s murder, and the Warrens attempted to put their lives back together again. Claire’s marriage to John (Rupert Graves) went on the rocks, and her other two kids (Allison Pill and Zach Gilford) processed their grief in different ways. She turned to religion and he turned to the bottle.
If you were looking for a quiet, intimate drama about grief and acceptance, you came to the wrong network. Adam stumbles back into the Warrens’ lives a decade later, and everything is turned upside down. While Claire is shocked and unable to process her feelings about her son’s return, Gilford’s Danny is immediately suspect that Adam isn’t who he says he is. There is a scene where Adam sneaks off to watch old home movies of himself, and he creepily rewinds the tape and mimics himself in the darkness.
The main problem with The Family is that it doesn’t earn its own drama. It shoves so many plot points in the pilot that I would be shocked if the show will be able to tie everything nicely together in the end. Why would the show introduce Adam and then force us to question him by the time the first hour concludes? Are we so desperate for something as twisty as a pretzel that we can’t appreciate a subtle arc or patient writing? There is no sense of realistic time. Nothing feels structured properly. It all feels rushed to get to a place to shock you. You know, like when John bangs Nina (the cop who put away Adam) initially.
I am a devout Joan Allen follower, but I was surprised by how little she struck me in the pilot. Her role is surprisingly underwritten. As Adam, Liam James (from The Way Way Back) is gaunt and his presence is disquieting. His eyes almost bulge as he watches everything unfold around him, and he’s eerily calm. He’s the performance to watch so far. Andrew McCarthy plays Hank, the man who spent time in prison for Adam’s murder, and it’s unclear where they are going to take his character. Is he vengeful for losing that much of his life? Is he trying to just adjust back to living in society?
If you liked The Deep End of the Ocean…or The Lovely Bones…or Little Children, you might be interested in where The Family is going. There are elements of all of these movies in the premiere. Do you remember last season’s “must-see drama” Secrets & Lies that premiered exactly one year ago? No? Well, we will see if this show fares better…