A slighter and frothier version of FX’s “The Riches,” “Scoundrels” asks the not-quite-burning question whether a family of grifters can potentially go straight. Virginia Madsen cuts a fine figure as the matriarch trying to hold her family of four kids together while their dad goes to prison, but the fanciful tone makes the show a little too pastel-colored when a bolder palette would seem to be required. Initially, anyway, these scoundrels simply aren’t dirty or rotten enough to give ABC’s summer cocktail the necessary kick.
“No violence, no drugs” is the code articulated by the West clan, led by Madsen’s Cheryl and hubby Wolf (David James Elliott). One grown son, improbably, is about to become a lawyer, while his twin brother (Patrick Flueger, in a dual role) has staged a robbery that leaves mom fuming — in a line already worn out by the promos, “We do not invade other people’s homes — at least, not when they’re in them!”
There’s a lot of similar too-cute dialogue in that vein, with mismatched daughters — an airhead (Leven Rambin, fresh off “Grey’s Anatomy”) and a brainy sort (Vanessa Marano) with a gift for blackmail — rounding out the kids.
Based on a New Zealand series titled “Outrageous Fortune,” as adapted by “Nip/Tuck’s” Lyn Greene and Richard Levine, the pilot takes its time setting up the premise, so it’s a crapshoot how well subsequent episodes will develop the life-after-crime theme. In addition to Madsen, the promising trappings include Carlos Bernard (“24”) as a local cop convinced the Wests have a hand in anything untoward that occurs within his jurisdiction.
Set in Palm Springs (hardly a hotbed for crime, unless pharmacies begin overcharging for prescriptions) but shot in New Mexico, the show clearly aspires to a light, blue-sky element — representing ABC’s summer antidote to the “Desperate Housewives”-on-vacation blues.
Tonally, though, it’s hard to escape a sense ABC has engaged a few too many times in the kind of operation that “Scoundrels” represents to get away with it scott free, and to prove — for the network, if not the Wests — that crime pays.