Well the 88th Academy Awards are history, and that means not a whole lot will be happening on the movie front for a while, but fortunately television programming is better than it has ever been. And it’s interesting how many major movies stars are jumping to the small screen.
The most recent star to make the switch is three-time Oscar nominee Joan Allen, whose new TV series titled “The Family” made its debut last Thursday, and from what I’ve seen so far, it looks as if it’s going to be very good indeed. The show was created by Jenna Bans, who served as a writer for “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal,” so you know the writing will be outstanding.
Allen plays Claire Warren, who is the Republican mayor of Red Pines, a fictional town in Maine, Where she lives with her husband, John (Rupert Graves), and their three children, Danny (Zach Gilford), Willa (Alison Pill), and Adam (Liam James). The story begins 10 years in the past with the abduction of Adam, who suddenly disappears into thin air.
Because Adam is the son of the mayor, his disappearance naturally generates both a massive search and a media circus. Despite the efforts of Sgt. Nina Meyer of the Red Pines Police Department, Adam is never found and ultimately is presumed to be dead. A guy named Hank (Andrew McCarthy), who lives next door to the Warrens and who has a history of questionable behavior toward young boys, is tried and convicted of Adam’s murder.
Now here’s the kicker that’s sucks you into this show. After 10 years pass, Adam suddenly reappears and comes home! Of course this unexpected event throws the Warren household into a turmoil, and each family member has a somewhat different reaction to Adam’s sudden and completely unexpected return home.
After just one episode I am so wrapped up in the lives of these people that I can’t wait to see what happens next. As you would expect, with an actress as good as Joan Allen heading the cast, the acting in the series is superb. Allen is one of those actresses who have and amazingly expressive face that enables her to convey myriad emotions without speaking. But she also is capable of delivering astoundingly powerful dialogue, and this role provides her with plenty of opportunity for doing so. She is perfectly cast in this part because Claire there’s a very strong woman who is attempting to balance being a mother and wife at the same time as she is actively pursuing a career in politics. In an online interview with Entertainment Weekly, Allen opened up about her character’s politics and about various other aspects of the series.
“I think it is going to be an interesting year for Claire’s political leanings, especially with everything that is going on right now. My take on her, which has been really fun for me to play, is that she shoots more from the hip in an emotional kind of way. I think she is definitely more conservative than I am by nature, and that’s fun to play. Jenna did say in the beginning, ‘Should she be a Republican or a Democrat?’ and I said, ‘I think a Republican could be more fun and interesting to play.’ I’ve looked at a lot of different footage of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, and I’ve looked at other footage of other women mayors across the country to see how they behave and how they act. That’s what I’ve been focusing on, and I think it should be interesting to see how people respond — particularly this year.”
All of the characters in this drama are affected in different ways by Adam’s unexpected return. In her interview, Allen offered some interesting insight into their reactions.
“I think all of the characters, if they seem manipulative, are really from their own point of view trying to do the best thing they think they can do. I think intentions for most of the characters come from a good, protective, loving place, but the best intentions sometimes can fall flat. Another character can go, ‘What? You thought you were saving me? You’re killing me!’, you know? I think all the characters are trying in their own way and are damaged in their own way.
“The trauma of this boy being taken really shook this family to its roots and changed it forever, and people responded in [survivalist] ways, [trying] to not cave in and die as a result. There are not many things that can happen much worse to a family than having a member taken and not knowing what happened to them. It’s one of the worst things that can happen to a person and to a family, and seeing how all of these characters have responded to that, the gulfs it’s created between them, and the moments where they’re back together amounts to a lot of the complexity and layering that Jenna was able to put into the story.”
Those of you who read this blog regularly or listen to me on AM 1600 WKKX know that I often have said that television has surpassed the movies as far as offering quality entertainment is concerned. And that’s why so many movie stars are making the transition from the big screen to the small one. Here’s what Allen had to say about that.
“The movie industry, I think, has really taken a turn and a hit since the recession. There’s more interesting material in television these days, even for men, but really for women. I think the types of stories that are being told on television now are layered and complex, and what I’m getting to do on this TV show I would not get to do in a movie; I’m reveling in that, and I’m grateful for it. “The Family” asks more of me as an actor to create and develop, and I feel more engaged and part of it; it’s adult and it’s layered, and a lot of the films coming out now are these huge, big action films only. There just aren’t as many stories being told in more dynamic ways on the big screen. There are a lot more interesting, complex things happening in television right now.”
In addition to Allen, “The Family” boasts an incredibly strong ensemble cast, and every single character intrigues me. It will be fascinating to follow their development as this riveting series continues. In addition to being an addictive mystery, this show also is a fascinating political drama and an intricate character study of a family struggling with an incredible shock.
It’s really difficult to assign a score to a series after just one episode because it could vary significantly in the weeks to come. However, the pilot for this series really drew me in, and so I’m going to assign it the score of a preliminary eight. It airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on ABC, and I highly recommend that you get involved with this family.