'We're not bad people, we just did a bad thing ...'
I wasn't expecting to like 'Bloodline,' the new sweeping Netflix family drama that debuted March 20. After all, the last thing any of us needs is another show to clog our queue and I seriously wanted to hate it.
Boy, was I wrong.
Netflix clearly hits a homerun when it comes to this new drippy Southern noir. Granted it may not have the water-cooler chatter of an "Orange is the New Black" or the formal gravitas of the flagship "House of Cards," but, if anything, this welcome addition to the streaming service's stable will definitely leave you craving more. And more. And more.
"Bloodline" is about the family dynamic; it's about our figurative demons; it's about achieving and being comfortable with our place at the table. It centers on the Rayburns, the defacto pillars of their community in the sticky Florida keys. So what's it about? When the black sheep and eldest son returns home for the 45th anniversary of the family-run hotel, dark secrets begin to emerge from their shameful past. As a result, the Rayburn siblings question everything they know about loyalty and themselves.
Believe me, I know... The genre and 'noir' label gets bandied about a bit too much. And it's easy to see why. There are several shows on TV these days that get slapped with the 'noir' moniker but probably aren't. Take Showtime's awesome "Ray Donovan," for example. As gritty and dark as the show tends to be, it's probably not a noir. That said, I'm sure there are those who would disagree.
There are many blog posts, albeit all with different characteristics, of what truly constitutes a noir. The late Roger Ebert has a pretty nifty list of ten.
Here's one of my favorites from him: "[Noir is] The most American film genre, because no society could have created a world so filled with doom, fate, fear and betrayal, unless it were essentially naive and optimistic." This is "Bloodline" in a nutshell because, at times, the Rayburn clan are all of those and then some.
WHAT WORKSBADDA-BING WITH HUMIDITY. "Bloodline" comes from "Damages" creators Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler and Daniel Zelman. If some of the family angst feels like familiar territory, you may be onto something. Kessler wrote and produced the second and third seasons of HBO's "The Sopranos."
THE BREAKOUT STAR. It's refreshing to see the family black sheep as the eldest of the tribe instead of the baby. And man, does actor Ben Mendelsohn hijack every scene he's in. The Australian thesp smolders and pivots every time you think you know what's happening. If Mendelsohn looks familiar he should. Acting since the 80s, he's been in a slew of TV shows and films. Notably, he also lit up the screen in the neo-noir "Killing Them Softly," with Brad Pitt and "The Place Beyond the Pines."
Here, however, he'll easily win you over as the guy that you know you probably shouldn't root for but do anyway - a doomed drifter - a sad lowlife who feels more comfortable in bus depots and coffee shops. Yeah, THAT'S noir.
A SOLID CAST. Where to begin? It's top-notch from top to bottom. Need proof? Sam Shepard as Poppa Rayburn, the patriarch of the family who just may hold some secrets; Sissy Spacek as the mom who loves that black sheep a bit too much; Linda Cardellini, the attorney daughter, who to me, looks like Ellen Page's hot Milfy mom (Cardellini, by the way, had a stupendous run on 'Mad Men' as the upstairs neighbor that was able to penetrate that Don Draper armor) and, finally, New Jersey's own Norbert Leo Butz, the young son with that Sonny Corleone temper. This leads us to...
WHAT SHOULD WORK BETTERTHE STAR. What's that you say?? Kyle Chandler stars as John Rayburn, the stoic second son and county sheriff. Now, before everyone goes all sorts of bonkers on me, I'm not suggesting that the Emmy-winner is bad. Quite the contrary. He does a fine job as the strong and silent Rayburn who has a soft spot for his eft up of a sibling. For me, his star gets lost in this eclectic mix of personalities. Granted, I've only seen the first few and he solidly delivers on every level, but again, when he's matched up against Mendelsohn, it might as well be John Candy acting and, I would expect that a star on the level of Chandler to stand out a bit more. Is it the writing? The performance? Still too tough to say. I will re-evaluate by the season's finale and amend if necessary.
VERDICTShould you give it a try? Absolutely. A family drama that feels neither soapy nor melodramatic, this Netflix show can easily rise above the streaming service's higher profile flagships. At its core, this is a drama that smolders just like the slow burn of Mendelsohn's cigarette and take it from me, THAT'S noir.
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