March 7, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Pilot + 1 Review: “The Family”


THE FAMILY:  Sunday 9PM on ABC

Previously… on THE FAMILY:  Ten years after his disappearance and presumed death, a now-teen Adam Warren (Liam James) appears, freshly escaped from what he describes as a decade spent in a hole in the ground near a “dragon.”  In the intervening years, his mother Claire (Joan Allen) has become mayor of their town and aspiring governor of Maine; his father John (Rupert Graves) has built a career on counseling others about living with grief; sister Willa (Alison PIll) is Claire’s closest aide; and big brother Danny (Zach Gilford) has turned into a heavy-drinking wastrel.  Upon Adam’s arrival, Hank (Andrew McCarthy), the neighbor who pleaded guilty to Adam’s murder, is released from prison, and local cop Nina Meyer (Margot Bingham), who’s been having an affair with Adam’s father, starts to re-investigate the crime.  One hitch:  Danny is starting to suspect that the new arrival may not be “Adam” at all.

Episode 2:  The first regular episode of The Family, written by series creator Jenna Bans and directed by John Gray, followed smoothly upon the pilot.  So smoothly, in fact, that it hit most of the same story beats, and made one wonder about where the show plans to go.  The episode clarified one key point:  after stating in the pilot that the DNA scientist who verified Adam’s return didn’t really exist, it turned out that he was real, but died a few days after submitting his results, hit by a train.  This naturally implies murder, which implies some kind of grand conspiracy, which so far seems beyond the bounds of the story, but there are plenty of hours left to play out.

For the rest, Claire and Willa were mostly concerned with herding the rest of the family into Claire’s gubernatorial campaign (Willa threatened to blackmail John with evidence of his affair with the cop), while Danny continued to unwittingly be milked for information by an ambitious and hot young reporter (Floriana Lima) as he expressed his suspicions about the new Adam.  Adam and Hank, for their respective parts, were studies in alienation:  Adam slept in the closet so he could touch the walls for comfort as he slept, and Hank lay with eyes wide open on the expensive bed he’d bought with the state compensation check for his false (?) imprisonment.  (We learned that Hank had hidden Adam’s mittens in his house, although it seemed incredible that the police hadn’t found them ten years earlier.)  Meanwhile, Nina looked for that pit where Adam claimed to have been kept, and a mysterious figure appeared to be trying to cover it all up, including by starting a gasoline fire in the woods.

It’s all very slick, and fits with ABC’s crime-driven serials (Bans is a veteran of Shonda Rhimes writing staffs).  Perhaps too well:  so far, there’s nothing very distinctive about The Family.  The drama doesn’t feel like it has a focal point, since Adam (who narrates) is such a shifty character, and his relatives are quite unlikable, as well played as they are by the strong cast.  Due to the “what really happened?” mystery, Family doesn’t have the character drama that made the initial season of Finding Carter compelling.  If The Family keeps offering teasing clues about Adam’s true past without answering the question, soon enough it’ll turn into The Blacklist, an exercise in narrative frustration.

The Family had a decent ratings start in a special run on Thursday, but it’s both less compatible with Once Upon A Time and likely to have a lower lead-in rating.  The show needs to demonstrate some originality fairly quickly, or it faces the danger of being lost in TV’s ever-increasing shuffle.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."