May 31, 2017

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Premiere Review: “Animal Kingdom”



ANIMAL KINGDOM has been a key part of TNT’s rebranding as a hipper TV destination than the home of Major Crimes and The Last Ship, and tonight’s Season 2 premiere promised more of the same, with plenty of FX-level sexuality and general grittiness on display.  The key change, at least in the short term, was a switch in the power dynamics within the show’s dysfunctional family.

The premiere, written by series creator/showrunner Jonathan Lisco and directed by Christopher Chulack, kicked off with a slick action sequence, as the Cody clan robbed a brewery in broad daylight.  However, once the safe had been transported into the sewers and blow-torched open, it turned out to contain a tiny fraction of the money that had been promised, and although the Cody men don’t know the details, the failure was squarely on family mastermind Smurf (Ellen Barkin), who ordered the robbery on the wrong day.  Her sons Baz (Scott Speedman), Pope (Shawn Hatosy), Craig (Ben Robson) and Deran (Jake Weary), who are sick of Smurf’s authoritarian control over the gang, decide to set themselves free.  They’ll choose and plan their own crimes and decide upon their own splits, cutting Smurf in for a small piece of the pie.  It’s clear to everyone–even them–that they’re likely to make a mess of things without Smurf in control, but nevertheless, they declare their emancipation, leaving recently-discovered grandson J (Finn Cole) caught between loyalties.  Smurf, for her part, seems content to let them self-destruct, fully aware that the boys are keeping enough secrets from each other–Pope, for example, killed the mother of Baz’s daughter at Smurf’s behest–that they won’t stay united for long.

This is the kind of shake-up that Animal Kingdom‘s presiding Executive Producer John Wells has used profitably on his other dysfunctional family show Shameless, as the politics among the Gallaghers and their narcissist dad sways from season to season.  In its first stanza, Animal Kingdom relied heavily on Smurf always being three steps ahead of everyone else, and a change in her all-knowingness could expose more sides of the rest of the characters.  The risk is that the show itself may start to feel like it lacks a center if too much time is spent on everyone at odds with each other.  Wells and Lisco are experienced enough, though, that one trusts they have a design for the season in hand.

Animal Kingdom doesn’t quite rise to the level of Prestige TV, but it’s a well-produced and well-acted hour, with a strong cast dominated, like the Codys, by Barkin’s work as Smurf.  It scored well in the ratings last season, and against slender summer competition, it should remain a solid score for TNT.

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."