In terms of a single line of dialogue establishing the spine of a series, “You don’t give up on family” is the thread connecting “Bloodline,” a very good, extremely well-cast Netflix drama about a big brood — with the requisite hostility and festering wounds — centered in the Florida Keys. Created by the trio behind “Damages,” the show employs a similar device, periodically jumping ahead to foreshadow a violent outcome, then gradually filling in gaps. Kyle Chandler serves as guide and narrator as the straight-arrow son and local sheriff, in what feels like the kind of binge-worthy series Netflix’s dump-’em-all-at-once strategy warrants.
Tonally, “Bloodline’s” closest kin among current dramas would be Showtime’s “The Affair,” including the dichotomy of the acrimony and scheming playing out against a sun-drenched island setting.
The Rayburn family possesses an especially wide footprint in the Florida Keys. Not only is Chandler’s John the sheriff, but his parents (Sissy Spacek, Sam Shepard) run a local inn, sister Meg (Linda Cardellini) is a lawyer and brother Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz) also has laid down roots.
A family celebration to honor the folks, however, brings home the obligatory black sheep, eldest brother Danny (Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn), a lifelong screw-up and ne’er-do-well who has a habit of drifting back only long enough to hit up his parents for money and break their hearts. The question of whether Danny can turn over a new leaf and be accepted by his siblings quickly becomes a focal point of the family dynamics, with the foreshadowing offering a sense of the tumult to come.
Nothing here is especially groundbreaking. But “Bloodline” smartly dives into its soapy doings with multiple plots, as well as an impressive acting roster — anchored by Chandler, playing a guy with many of the same qualities as his beloved “Friday Night Lights” role, albeit in a different situation — that beyond the extended Rayburn clan also includes Steven Pasquale and Chloe Sevigny in recurring roles.
The producers also take advantage of shooting in the Keys, which becomes a kind of player in the ongoing drama, down to the unpredictable weather.
Netflix has dabbled in various kinds of series, including comedy and horror, but even without flashy bells and whistles, this sort of serialized drama would still seem to be ideally suited to its distribution approach, provided that a relatively low-octane premise can draw enough people into the tent.
On the plus side, in the same way Papa Rayburn likes to spend time fishing, one suspects that a lot of those who give “Bloodline” a chance will, pretty quickly, find themselves hooked.