×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: ‘Animal Kingdom’

With:
Ellen Barkin, Scott Speedman, Shawn Hatosy, Jake Weary, Ben Robson, Finn Cole, Daniella Alonso, Molly Gordon

It makes a certain kind of sense that the crime drama “Animal Kingdom,” based on a 2010 Australian film of the same name, ends up being as deceptive as the family at its heart. At first, the TNT show looks as though it may be a promising showcase for Ellen Barkin, who stars as the matriarch of a beach-side clan that lives well thanks to its penchant for cleverly executed heists.,

But in the course of the drama’s first three episodes, it becomes more and more apparent that, despite its characters’ shady pasts and dicey decisions, the show is, on the whole, fairly predictable and even conventional. Its characters never really do anything all that surprising: It’s no shock that a family united by heists would end up breaking all sorts of other laws, and any time anyone on screen utters the sentence, “There are no secrets in this family,” that’s the cue for a scene or two of duplicitous behavior. 

Though the cast is packed with solid actors clearly eager to play morally shady thieves, the characters are not written with the kind of depth and texture that would make the Cody family’s crime sprees, troubled relationships, and simmering arguments worth following. Time and again, characters take “shocking” actions that are meant to signal that the show is willing to go to dark places, but there’s so little context and history behind those moments that it’s difficult to care about what occurs or about the ramifications of those acts.

It’s a tribute to Barkin that she almost makes Janine “Smurf” Cody work as a character. Smurf is the manipulative matriarch who controls the purse strings of the Cody gang, and, as “Animal Kingdom” begins, her four sons are feeling restive about the fact that they’re being kept on short leashes, emotionally and financially. She’s constantly preparing meals and snacks for her boys, but she keeps them deprived in other ways, and there’s a slightly incestuous vibe to how she interacts with the young men in her orbit, whether or not they’re tied to her by blood. There’s a calculated strategy behind the way she disciplines her boys by either withholding her attention or lavishing them with her creepy love, and Barkin is charismatic enough to inject those scenes with layers of shading and ambiguity.

The actress gives the character a queenly walk and a tough, steely vibe, but, despite her formidable abilities, Smurf never quite becomes the love-to-hate-her character she could be, in part because some of the worst things she does make it easy to write her off as a garden-variety sociopath. The viewer doesn’t need to like Smurf for the show to work, but the character’s more odious actions are not counterbalanced by the kind of shading that would make her power plays worth watching over the long term.

Scott Speedman acquits himself well as Barry “Baz” Blackwell, an adopted son who tries to keep the family peace, which is no easy task, but Baz is saddled with two underdeveloped romantic relationships, both of which lack depth and nuance. Shawn Hatosy is impressive as Andrew “Pope” Cody, whose unsettling intensity hints at much deeper psychological problems, but Pope’s character doesn’t really go anywhere: In almost every scene he’s in, he’s odd, angry, or resentful, and that’s about it.

In any case, the focus in the early episodes is on Joshua “J” Cody (Finn Cole), Smurf’s grandson, who has been estranged from the family but is reunited with the clan early in the pilot. Cole is a likable enough actor (and unlike some other non-American members of the cast, his Southern California accent sounds legit), but ultimately the character proves to be a somewhat bland and underwhelming entry point into the Codys’ world.

The Codys may be bold risk-takers, but the territory this show explores — aggression, rule-breaking, and criminal conspiracies within a dysfunctional family— has been thoroughly mined by decades of films and TV shows. Like the recent cable dramas “Vinyl” and “Feed the Beast,” this TNT series just doesn’t have many unique or fresh things to say about crime, unconventional clans, and the limits of traditionally defined masculinity.

“Animal Kingdom” wants to jolt the viewer with bursts of intense energy, but in the end, it feels like a relic from cable TV’s semi-recent past. It’s certainly more challenging than TNT’s last few batches of procedurals, but it’s unlikely to be a game-changer.

TV Review: 'Animal Kingdom'

(Series; TNT, Tues. June 14, 9 p.m.)

Production: Filmed in California by John Wells Prods. and Warner Horizon Television for TNT.

Crew: Executive producers, John Wells, Jonathan Lisco, Etan Frankel, Christopher Chulack, Liz Watts, Andrew Stearn, David Michod; director, Wells; writer, Lisco; camera, Danny Moder; production designer, Nina Ruscio; editor, Jeffrey M. Werner; music, Alex and Sam; costume designer, Lyn Elizabeth Paolo; casting, John Frank Levey, Melanie Burgess. 60 MIN.

Cast: Ellen Barkin, Scott Speedman, Shawn Hatosy, Jake Weary, Ben Robson, Finn Cole, Daniella Alonso, Molly Gordon

More TV

  • Series Mania Unveils 2019 Festival, with

    Series Mania Unveils 2019 Festival Lineup

    PARIS — Graced by Uma Thurman, “The Good Doctor” star Freddie Highmore and “Black Mirror” creators-showrunners Charlie Brooker and Anabel Jones, the 10th Series Mania – and second in Lille, north-east France – will kick off March 22 with Netflix prominent, a broader   geographical reach and a strong presence of women writers and directors. [...]

  • Black Panther

    'Black Panther,' 'Crazy Rich Asians,' 'Westworld' Among Costume Designers Guild Winners

    “Crazy Rich Asians,” “The Favourite” and “Black Panther” walked away with top honors at the 21st annual Costume Designers Guild Awards Tuesday night, the final industry guild show before the Oscars on Feb. 24. “The Favourite” and “Black Panther” are up for the Oscar this year, along with “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” “Mary Poppins [...]

  • Syfy Cancels 'Nightflyers' After One Season

    Syfy Cancels 'Nightflyers' After One Season

    The George R.R. Martin drama “Nightflyers” has been canceled by Syfy after only one season. Based on the novella from the mastermind behind “Game of Thrones,” the show was seen as a big gamble for the NBCUniversal-owned cable network, as it represented the most expensive series it had ever developed. The network attempted to spark [...]

  • Batwoman Arrow

    The CW's 'Batwoman' Pilot Switches Directors, Adds Dougray Scott

    The CW has added veteran Scottish actor Dougray Scott to its “Batwoman” pilot as well as swapped in Marcos Siega for previous director David Nutter, Variety has learned. The pilot, which stars Ruby Rose as the eponymous caped heroine, is being helmed by DC TV head Greg Berlanti, and was penned by “Vampire Diaries” alum [...]

  • OG Review

    Review: 'O.G.' on HBO

    Jeffrey Wright, the most compelling reason to watch HBO’s new film “O.G.,” is among television’s best actors at switching between codes or manners of being. On “Westworld,” his timeline-toggling android swaps personae so delicately that his performance gains in resonance when recalled in retrospect. (Perhaps that’s why Wright has been so oddly underrated through the [...]

  • Nahnatchka Khan Writers Room

    Nahnatchka Khan Exits 20th Century Fox TV for Overall Deal at Universal

    Nahnatchka Khan has signed a four-year overall deal at Universal Television. The deal brings an end to the decade-plus Khan and her Fierce Baby Productions banner spent at 20th Century Fox Television. The move will see Khan exit from her role as showrunner on ABC comedy “Fresh Off the Boat,” which she also created. The [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content