If you were a fan of the late FX show “Damages” prepare yourself for “Bloodline,” the new family crime drama from Damages creators Glenn Kellser, Todd Kessler and Daniel Zelman. Full disclosure, I have not seen much of Damages, so any connection to the two shows will probably not be best highlighted in my reviews (sorry readers, I’m not omnipresent on the tube). I’ll be real with you, my greatest pull for this show was it’s casting of former “Friday Night Lights” star Kyle Chandler as the middle son and local police detective John Rayburn. I loved him and that show enough to check out Bloodline on Netflix and if that’s the only reason I came over then I could say it was worth it.
Without giving too much away, the show revolves around the Rayburn family who have built a legacy in the Florida Keys. That fairytale starts to tear at the seams when older brother Danny (Mendelsohn) returns to town to partake in the dedication of a new pier in the family’s name. The series is narrated from John Rayburn’s (Chandler) point of view. A man who loves his family and everything it stands for, he even loves his older brother….but he loves the family name more.
Using the Florida Keys as a background for the show is incredibly unique and refreshing. It offers fun, new opportunities combined with a nearly alien culture that is exciting to be introduced to. The show has some fairly snappy, if sometimes improbable, dialogue to feed to the talented cadre of thespians. Every once in a while you get the sense that the actors are being asked a bit too much with some of the lines. What worked well for vicious lawyers in Damages doesn’t always go over as well for a family in the Keys. This is a minor quibble though compared to the show’s format. Almost immediately they apply a non-linear style of jumping between present and future (and in later episodes jumping between past, present and future) It’s a twist in letting the audience see that something extremely traumatic is going to happen and teasing therm into wondering just how we will get there.
Onto the cast! I may be jumping ahead when I say that the cast is the reason to stick around. You already know Kyle Chandler but that’s just kicking things off. Linda Cardellini formerly of “Freaks And Geeks” fame plays Meg Rayburn, the little sister turned lawyer with control issues. Norbert Leo Butz is middle child Kevin Rayburn, who has crazy temper issues. Norbert has a background in theater and as such is a bit of a journeyman for character roles in TV and movies. With a little more screen time here he is allowed to really show what he’s got and it’s a ton of fun to watch.
Ben Mendelsohn plays the oldest brother, the trouble maker, Danny Rayburn, who is just returning home. While I came to the series for Chandler, it really is Mendelsohn’s show. It would seem like an odd casting to put a slim Australian in the role of a havoc wreaking American eldest brother but a glove has never fit so well. The show really accelerates when he is on screen.
Finally there are the all-stars: Sissy Spacek as mama Rayburn and Sam Sheperherd as papa Rayburn. This is an incredibly well rounded cast and they are given a fair amount of room to work their magic.
To be frank I don’t really care for this format when used in excess. To illustrate a single plot point in this manner indicates directorial dexterity but to make it a staple of the show really just comes off as tedious and tiresome. I would be fairly content to sit with the characters as they deal with their hurricane of a brother but the melo-drama is ratcheted up to 11 with constant cutaways to traumatic events in the past and present. Some of it saves dialogue exposition but most of it is an attempt to keep an audience around by saying “Don’t stop watching yet! Someone is gonna kill someone and you definitely want to know who and how they did it!”
In closing, Bloodline is a show that has more than enough ingredients to become a taut family drama/thriller. Despite this, it could easily be derailed by a clunky format and stilted writing. The cast and the creators’ experience helming a multi-season serial should be enough to help the show slip into a rhythm, but for now it’s a little start and stop. Regardless, if you’re in the mood for a fresh thriller with oodles of potential in a tantalizing new locale, look no further than Netflix’s Bloodline.
While there are many things that could cause this series to hiccup and flatline there are more variable working in it's favor. A fun new springtime show with an all star cast and intriguing storyline? Sure I'll keep up!