What if Carmella Soprano had to take over the family business because Tony was, er, permanently retired? That’s the potentially fertile premise at the heart of “Red Widow,” an ABC drama adapted from a Dutch series, starring Radha Mitchell as the mom turned reluctant mobster. ABC wisely decided to introduce the show with a two-hour premiere, since the first half meanders in charting the show’s ultimate direction. While tonally compatible with lead-in “Revenge,” and offering further suburban adventures in the drug trade, the middling execution hews closer to presenting a desperate housewife than bringing to mind “Breaking Bad.”
A lengthy 13-minute prologue sets events in motion, with the central character’s brother Irwin (Wil Traval) crossing the kind of people, we’re told later, who kill whole families to pay back such indiscretions. While Mitchell’s Marta enjoys an outwardly idyllic Bay Area life, she’s turned a blind eye to the fact her husband Evan (guest Anson Mount) and brother have been supporting the brood through drug smuggling, dealing in wads of cash and leaving a revolver where the youngest of their three kids can inadvertently find it.
“I will protect my children at any cost,” Marta snaps when she thinks her husband’s actions might endanger them, a line clearly intended to become the spine of the show’s bible after he’s gunned down.
The killing leaves Marta to clean up the mess, which requires dealing with the crime boss, Schiller (“ER’s” Goran Visnjic). Yet Schiller sees something in Marta — perhaps it’s those blood lines to the Russian mob, to which her dad (Rade Serbedzija) is connected — and asks her to take on a single chore on his behalf to settle her husband’s debt.
Of course, extricating herself won’t be so easy. Still, the show’s main early problem is that Visnjic’s suave yet ruthless mobster is the most compelling character, and he’s not around all that much.
Adapted by “Dexter” alum Melissa Rosenberg, and boasting a solid cast headed by Mitchell, “Red Widow” also comes across a little muddled morally speaking, insofar as Marta knew about her husband’s shady doings, but manages to act surprised they might have caught up with the family. That somewhat undermines the ordinary-women-thrust-into-dangerous-world aspect of the premise, though there are some intriguing threads to be teased out, beginning with the little matter of who actually killed Evan, provided Schiller can be trusted when he insists he didn’t.
All told, there’s enough here to stick around a little while, but this is one of those premises almost designed to strain plausibility over time — a scenario ABC has experienced with regularity of late in regard to its serialized fare.
On the plus side, the scheduling not only provides the program a reasonable lead-in, but offers ABC’s annual platform of promotion during the Oscars. None of that’s likely to matter, though, if this less-than-vibrant start represents “Red Widow’s” peak.