Mysterious and complex dramas, that rely on suspense and twists, are nothing new. Some are done far better than others,and some are just mildly entertaining. The ones that truly work, are the ones that know how to make the mysteries truly compelling and can move a few episodes forward into a full blown series.
The new ABC Studios Production series “The Family”, is definitely gripping and suspenseful, but will this be enough to make it a full fledged series?
This suspense drama stars Joan Allen (“Room”, “A Good Marriage”), Rupert Graves (upcoming “Sacrifice”, “Last Tango in Halifax”), Allison Pill (“Hail, Caesar!”, “The Newsroom”), Margot Bingham (upcoming films “Barbershop: The Next Cut”, “Destined”), Zach Gilford (“Tim and Eric’s Bedtime Stories”, “Drunk History”), Liam James (“The Killing”, “R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour”), Florina Lima (“Allegiance”, “Cloudy with a Chance of Love”), Madeline Arthur (“The Wolf Who Came to Dinner (Short 2015)”, “Supernatural”), Rarmian Newton (“The Doctor Blake Mysteris”, “Never Tear Us Apart: The Untold Story of INXS”), and Andrew McCarthy (“Unforgettable”, “Come Dance with Me”).
The series was created by Jenna Bans (“Scandal”, “Grey’s Anatomy”).
The series debuted on March 3, 2016.
For some time now I’ve been anxiously waiting for this series to start. It always seemed interesting, and with a cast led by Allen, worth at least one go around. After last night’s powerful premier, I must say the wait was worth it. Okay, in all honestly, I actually can’t say the wait was worth it. It just dragged and dragged and I never thought the day would come. I guess this is the increasingly difficult thing about so many shows being made, and so many being saved for the midseason roster. If only networks weren’t so hell bent on filling every ounce of air time, maybe we would’ve seen this sooner.
The performances are great. Incredibly strong ones too. From the moment the show began there was always a reason to keep watching. When the episode finally got to Allen’s character, and the reveal (for her) that her deceased “son” is actually alive, it’s an incredibly strong and bold moment. I’ve never felt so emotionally impacted than by watching Allen’s character’s reaction, as well as the other family members reactions as they learn. As the episode continues, there’s even more reason to be invested as you learn that there are many secrets that date back to when the youngest member of the family disappeared. Thus sending you on your way into the series, but also showing how complex this show is going to be with regards to its overall mystery.
And adding to all the drama that’s already been brought by the mystery, there’s the individual characters that populate this world. I already find that this film is going to be a character driven series. It will also be driven by the mystery and who holds what pieces to the puzzle. This series is about how this family copes with the reappearance of a long believed dead member, and what really happened. I say this too as I don’t find that this show is going to fit into that same mold of prime time soap as “Revenge” or “Devious Maids” or any of the others, but be a major character study. So much of what was revealed was about how the various characters, not just family members, acted before and after the disappearance. It’s from here, apparently, that audiences are going to have to figure out the various mindsets and piece together how so many pieces could lead to a terrible outcome, twice. The disappearance, and then the reappearance where it’s shown that an accused man was wrongly convicted. What were people thinking and what does that say about them? A character driven approach will also allow you to care, dislike, love or any other feeling, this family.
There’s one element of storytelling I didn’t realize annoyed me. When dealing with past and present events it’s not difficult to find a way to make sure your intelligent audience knows which is which. However, if you think the best way is to constantly repeat it, like we all have amnesia, then you may have a problem. In this episode the back and forth of the timeline made sense at first. The episode started by telling me it was “10 Years Ago” or “Present”, as it was establishing the events that lead to this series existing at all. However, as the hour continued, all it did was drive me crazy. I had to wonder, at some point, if it was going to continue like this, and low and behold, it did. Does Bans or any of the producers, or the network think the audience is stupid? We can figure out the difference in time, we don’t need to be given a written notice each time the story shifts. Did the network not remember how “Lost” was handled? What about all the other shows that include flashbacks predominantly (“Arrow”) or occasionally? I’m sure there are many out there. I’m also sure I can get past this, but it’s always going to drive me crazy.
My last problem is that, as of right now, even though I’m deeply interested and invested in this show, I can’t figure out how this could go on to be a full blown series. I know it’s quite early in the season to have doubts, particularly after a stellar start, but I’m reminded of a few other shows. Former CBS show “Hostage”, and former National Broadcast Company (NBC) show “Crisis”, each had interesting and suspenseful premises (I’m assuming about “Hostage” as I never saw it), but only lasted one season. In part that was due to low ratings, but I believe this ratings problem was due to the fact that viewers saw little potential in these two series. They each had very predictable outcomes and would never have made good long running series. I may have somewhat enjoyed “Crisis” and a few of its actors, but even I couldn’t figure out why it was even on the air. Unless, as is a possibility, albeit stupid, NBC only wanted to have a one and done type show to fill a nonexistent gap in the programming schedule. If this is the case, I have less respect than before. If it’s not, then I still have little respect. The network heads should’ve known better. Hopefully this exciting show doesn’t end up like these other two, and no doubt many others, or I’ll be disappointed. There very well may be little reason to stick with network tv shows.
Drama shows with really complex narratives or mythologies could work really well, or just be lost in the noise of so many other TV shows. Why? Because there’s nothing really distinguishing them form the others. There’s no reason to care on any level. Some may just spend too much time on one aspect, and ignore the other crucial elements. And if you want to create a compelling and complex serial drama, that really stands out, you’re going to need all these elements working as one.