May 6, 2013



RED WIDOW spent its season about two inches away from being a really enjoyable dark farce.  All the ingredients were there:  plotting that had a vague, circular logic but was basically nonsensical, and a cast of moronic characters so wrapped up in their own ignorance, selfishness and blind aggression that they constantly bumped into each other even as they were incompetently trying to pull off startling betrayals.  Comedy with a body count is a perfectly legitimate form of entertainment, as the Coen Brothers, among others, have repeatedly proven, and this could have been a sterling example.

Unfortunately, Red Widow thought it was a drama.

The result was 8 weeks of inane, ridiculous storytelling created by Twilight screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, with characters so dumb that you wondered how they put their guns into their holsters each day without blowing their own fingers off.  The season (for now) finale, written by Co-Executive Producer Chris Black and directed by Alex Zakrzewski, was more of the same.  It turned upon the not-very-surprising climactic revelation that the murder of family man/pot-smuggler Evan Walraven (Anson Mount), which had kicked the show off, hadn’t been ordered by smooth gangster Nicholae Schiller (Goran Visnjic) or by equally smooth rival gangsteress Alexandra de Costa (Branka Katic), but by rapacious Andrei Petrov (Rade Serbedzija)–who happened to be the father of heroine and titular widow Marta (Radha Mitchell).  Andrei tried to fool Marta into thinking it was Schiller who ordered the killing by placing Schiller’s dead henchman’s feet into the distinctive shoes of the hitman who’d shot Evan, even though doing so required him to cut off the henchman’s toes–and you mean to tell me this wasn’t meant as black comedy?

It’s a shame, really.  Just the reliably stupid antics of Evan’s drug-business partners, Mike (Lee Tergesen) and Marta’s brother Irwin (Will Travel), could have been enough for a comedy spin-off of their own, highlighted by Irwin’s dumb-dumb theft of Schiller’s drugs and affair with Andrei’s mistress, and the episode where a masked Mike kidnapped Marta’s teen daughter Natalie (Erin Moriarity), a task at which he was so inept that even Natalie figured out who he was before the hour was half over.  Then there was Marta’s son Gabriel (Sterling Beaumon), who constantly fondled the pistol that grandpa had given him.  And that’s not even to mention DEA agent Ramos (Clifton Collins, Jr), who ended up in bed with Marta’s sister Kat (Jaime Ray Newman), so he was constantly overhearing nuggets relating to the drug or gun-running business and being outsmarted by everyone around him.

The casting was way off, too.  Radha Mitchell, Goran Visnjic and Clifton Collins, Jr are all very good actors, but none of them were suited for their roles.  There could have been a more serious version of this story where Marta, having to take over Evan’s drug business in order to pay off his debts, discovered there was a part of her that liked being a criminal–a series version of the Catherine Zeta-Jones character in Traffic.  But that wasn’t this story, where Marta acted at all times only in the interests of protecting her family, and Mitchell is too cool a customer for such a bland character.  Visnjic is fine at being a debonair bad guy, but there’s no real menace to him, and when every other character talked about how scary Schiller was, it seemed like they must have met someone else.  Collins was simply wasted playing a cop so bad at his job that he seemed singlehandedly responsible for the west coast drug trade.

Red Widow‘s ratings were awful, so it’s unlikely that we’ll ever see it again.  It served as a useful reminder of just how bad network drama can be–and a failure of imagination, because pushed just a little bit farther, it could have become the cult comedy of the season.


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."