This is not a commercial for Netflix, but people who don’t subscribe to it are missing some of the finest programs on television. In addition to offering an incredibly diverse and generous array of movies and regular television, Netflix has created such superb original series as “Orange Is the New Black,” “House of Cards,” “The Fall,” and “Southcliffe,” to name just a few.
The newest original series contribution from Netflix is “Bloodline,” a 13-episode show with a phenomenal ensemble cast that includes Academy Award-winner Sissy Spacek, Emmy-winner Kyle Chandler, and Oscar nominee Sam Shepard. This is an absolutely intriguing saga about the Rayburn family, which is aptly described in the show’s tagline: “We’re not bad people, but we did a bad thing.” The series was created by Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler, and Daniel Zelman, the same team that gave us “Damages,” and so you know it must be great.
Robert (Shepard) and Sally Rayburn (Spacek) live in the Florida Keys, where they have owned and operated a beautiful inn for 45 years. As our story begins, people are arriving at the inn to celebrate its 45th anniversary, including Danny (Ben Mendelsohn), the oldest of three Rayburn sons, who is traveling a long way to get there. And we know immediately from a voiceover by John (Kyle Chandler), the middle son, that Danny’s return could mean trouble.
“Sometimes you know something’s coming. You feel it the air, in your gut. You don’t sleep at night. A voice in your head is telling you something is going to go terribly wrong, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. That’s how I felt when my brother came home.”
The additional members of the Rayburn family are the third son, Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz), and Meg (Lind Cardellini), the youngest Rayburn sibling. All of the Rayburn children live in close proximity to their parents with the exception of Danny, who left the Keys for an as yet undisclosed reason. John is the local sheriff, Kevin’s main occupation seems to be drinking in addition to occasionally repairing boats, and Meg is an attorney.
When the first episode opens, we see an aerial view of bus traveling along a road in the Keys as John’s voiceover kicks in, and then we are inside the bus, where we see Danny deep in thought. In the meantime back at the inn, John leaves to meet Danny’s bus at the station in town. But when the bus arrives, Danny isn’t on it!
Without going into too much detail, let’s just say that Danny ultimately makes it the inn, where his family members welcome him with varying attitudes. Sally is happy to see her son, but Robert barely acknowledges him. Despite being stood up at the bus station, John accepts Danny’s presence, as does Meg. But Kevin is openly hostile toward his older brother.
The first major conflict arises when Danny announces that he has invited a date to the big dinner that evening and that he wants her to sit at the family table. Kevin is so enraged by this that he and Danny almost come to blows, but this incident serves as an emphatic indication that Danny’s presence may jeopardize the festivities.
Now as I said, at this writing, I am just four episodes into the series, but I don’t want to spoil anything by revealing too much of what happens in them. However, I will say that all of the Rayburns are harboring a deep, dark, mysterious secret, and it has had a profound effect on the family’s dynamics. The plot unfolds in the present, but there also are numerous flashbacks in the minds of the major characters, and these are like various pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. And the show is so damn good that I have to restrain myself from binge-watching it all at once because I don’t want it to end. It’s like watching a novel!
The acting is consistently superb from this ensemble cast, and you won’t find a weak link in it. Spacek and Shepard bring grace, charm, and dignity to their respective roles as the matriarch and patriarch of the Rayburn clan. Their chemistry is so good that when you see them together, you will really believe that they have been married for almost 50 years.
Although Chandler will always be Coach Eric Taylor for me, he’s perfectly cast in the role of the voice of reason and peacemaker of the family. Not only does he have the task of overseeing his brothers and sister, but in his role as sheriff he also is responsible for the safety of everyone in the town. In an online interview with Christina Radish of Collider, the actor explained what interested him about the part, and how much different it is from his role as Coach Taylor.
“What drew me to it was the Kesslers saying, ‘We have an idea we want to talk to you about.’ Glenn Kessler came to me and gave me a broad overview of the idea and said, ‘If you like it, we’ll go ahead, and we’ll write something and come back to you.’ I was hooked then. When they came back with the material, I just absolutely saw no reason not to be jumping into this. That’s as simple as it was, really.
“As you grow older, everything changes. I can guarantee you’ll never see John wearing a blue baseball hat on Bloodline. At the same time, no, I don’t want people to associate me with Coach Taylor for the rest of my life. It’s a blessed curse. But, I don’t think this is that type of character. This show is so completely different from that. It’s a completely different audience and style, and the way this show is written is different. I’m so excited about so many different things, but one of them being that this show takes me places, as an actor, that if I knew we were going to go before we started shooting, I would have been a little bit more hesitant or terrified. There were big challenges for me, as an actor, in this show.”
In their respective roles as the other Rayburn siblings, Butz is by turns amusing and revolting as the hard-drinking, hotheaded Kevin, and Cardellini is irresistibly appealing as the sole sister who still isn’t sure what she wants in life.
As good as all these other actors are, however, it’s Mendelsohn who threatens to steal the show with his terrific portrayal of the emotionally scared Danny. Mendelsohn is so good in fact that he manages to make us dislike Danny and feel sorry for him at the same time. He actually reminds me a bit of the late James Dean. In an online interview, also with Christina Radish of Collider, Mendelsohn revealed what attracted him to the project.
“I think it was the way that the KZK (Kessler, Zelman, Kessler) guys would talk about it. I had an initial meeting with them, and they just spoke about it in a way that announced itself as something that was certainly going to have some pretty decent integrity to it and sounded quite interesting. Before anything else had happened, that was the entry point. They sounded good. The meeting I had with those guys was a really good meeting. What they assembled exceeded what my expectations were from the initial meeting.
“I felt like we were going somewhere that was dark and that was mysterious and that was, at times, quite thrilling. I couldn’t wait to read the scripts. When the new episodes would drop, we’d go back and read them. That doesn’t happen a lot, where you really want to read the next episode to find out what happens, and that is what happened. So, I think their approach has a great deal of merit.”
In addition excellent acting and a plotline that constantly keeps you guessing, “Bloodline,” which was filmed on location, offers some stunning scenes of the WARM Florida Keys. The Rayburns are a fascinating family, and I really hope this show comes back for another season because it earns the final score of an enthusiastic and excited 10. Once you meet these people, you’ll never forget them.