There is so much wrong with the manipulative, poorly written and executed ABC drama The Family, it's difficult to know where to begin. But here's as good a place as any: Look up and move over, because there's an anvil coming down on your head.
Whatever intrigue and mystery that The Family thinks it's hiding is ruined by its tortured, leaden plot structure and unholy need to drop those anvils as many times as it can.
Starring Oscar nominee Joan Allen as Claire Warren, a bright-eyed housewife turned conniving politician, The Family centers on Warren's loving and supportive family and what happened 10 years prior, when she was running for city council and her youngest son, Adam, was kidnapped at a rally and subsequently murdered. A decade later and she's now mayor, as hardened by the politics of doing whatever it takes to run the fictional town of Red Pines, Maine, as she is about losing Adam. Grief is yesterday's worry. Today it's her big push to become governor.
Ah, but Adam (Liam James) comes back to mess everything up. He just appears at the police station, having emerged from the wilderness to point out the "Missing" poster with his face on it that still hangs in its halls.
That "Missing" poster had become a monument to the amazing police work of Nina Meyer (Margot Bingham) — then a 25-year-old cop who looked 15, now a 35-year-old detective who looks 25 — who put Adam's "killer" behind bars.
There is not one second in The Family where you look at Bingham and say, "Yes, I totally believe that you are a powerful detective who broke open this amazing case a decade ago." Nope. You look at her and think, "Are you old enough to drink and is that the same hairstyle you have in your Tinder profile pics?"
This isn't Bingham's fault at all. This is a casting issue — made more problematic because Bingham, as Det. Meyer, is having an affair with John Warren (Rupert Graves), whose salt-and-pepper hair coupled with Bingham's wrinkle-free complexion conjures up images of "daughter's best friend" and not "hot detective who feels strangely connected to Adam's dad."
Granted, both agree that Claire is a politicking machine without feelings — so an affair isn't entirely far-fetched (and this is ABC, after all). But this particular romance is more unexpected than Adam returning after everybody thought he'd died 10 years ago. There's even one hilarious scene where we flash back to Bingham as the street cop in the interrogation room 10 years prior, then to her in the same room "present day, " swigging booze out of a bottle as convincingly as Miley Cyrus playing Margaret Thatcher.
But never mind that — Adam's back, everybody! His return immediately frees pedophile neighbor Hank (Andrew McCarthy), who'd confessed to the murder because Meyer had some "stuff" on him back in the day — mostly the child porn on his computer. We see this in flashbacks — a conceit The Family uses to distraction. It's all "10 Years Ago" and "Present Day" ad nauseam. The flashbacks just become more anvils to dodge.
Speaking of anvils — The Family immediately (and with great cranial damage) makes it clear that Adam is really not Adam; he's some poor tortured kid faking it. He's damaged and probably has suffered all the terrible things any kidnapped kid has — we know that by another anvil drop that reveals "the Pockmarked Man" (yes, that's really how he's described, played by actor Michael Esper). How important the Pockmarked Man turns out to be isn't immediately clear — ABC gave critics the first two episodes only. But let's just say he's menacing. And exactly how Not Adam described his kidnapper. If the Pockmarked Man turns out to be a red herring, who cares? You should never make it to the end of The Family anyway.
Beyond all of this, the Warrens have two disparate kids — Willa (Allison Pill), the religiously devout daughter who — anvil alert — wears an ever-present cross over every blouse and actually makes the sign of the cross in times of stress. Then there's Danny (Zach Gilford), the unreliable drunk son. We know he's a drunk because Claire points it out in one of those speeches that make you wonder why Joan Allen took this role in the first place. "You're my son and I love you but you're a drunk, Danny." Drunk or not, Danny is the only one who immediately realizes that Adam is not really Adam — but he mustn't ever make that allegation out loud again, is another thing Claire tells him.
Ah, but who can dig up the truth in all of this? How about the hot reporter, Bridey Cruz (Floriana Lima) at the Red Pines Tribune? We first meet Bridey — and yes, that's her name - wearing shorts at the office (also true) and telling the terribly clichéd editor that she can get some dirt on this case. Who the hell is she, the editor asks, and Bridey blurts out that she writes — and I wish I was making this part up, but I'm not — the "lesbian lifestyle blog."
Nothing the rest of the television season will be as funny as that.
From lesbian lifestyle blogger to investigative reporter, Bridey goes to work on drunk Danny in ways that indicate she's probably not a lesbian. Somewhere Willa is making the sign of the cross and Pill is wishing she were back on The Newsroom because even Aaron Sorkin's manipulative writing wasn't anywhere near as heinous as what Jenna Bans (Grey's Anatomy, Private Practice, Scandal) doles out here.
Two episodes are one and half more episodes than you'll need to realize The Family is pretty awful. It could be that Bans tweaks the whole thing later and nothing is as it would seems were you to go by the anvils unleashed in the first two hours, but the only person outside of the ABC corporate offices who will get to the end of this thing is Joan Allen's agent, praying the whole thing gets suddenly magnificent.
Paul McGuigan directed the pilot and he seems in quite a hurry to show you what happened 10 years ago, show you what's happening in "present day, " bring Adam back and then train a lens on the fallout, which doesn't ever seem believable. I'm not sure anyone gets off unscathed in The Family, although at least Gilford gets to pretend drink a lot and make out with a lesbian blogger.
Even Joan Allen, playing the maniacally focused politician, can't overcome casting issues, writing issues and plentiful anvils to save this Family.
Studio: ABC Studios
Cast: Joan Allen, Rupert Graves, Margot Bingham, Allison Pill, Zach Gilford, Liam James