Magazine article Variety

Parental Stridence

Magazine article Variety

Parental Stridence

Article excerpt

IN THE FIRST EPISODE of "House of Cards" season four, we meet Elizabeth Hale [Ellen Burstyn] in her Dallas estate, sitting on the edge of her bed, dressed in an all-white ensemble with an ivory jacket. Later she shames her daughter, Claire Underwood [Robin Wright], from trying to pull off a similar shade. "Even with your figure, it will accentuate all the wrong places."

This year, television offered an abundance of estranged and complicated parent-child relationships to bring depth and clarity to a main character: Oh, that's where they get [insert mannerism here]. In a television landscape obsessed with complex, messy protagonists, Burstyn's performance was one of many this year by a guest actor who used their brief screen time to help the audience empathize with even the most enigmatic and isolating characters.

"I'm always afraid of hurting people's feelings. But she wasn't - at all," Burstyn says, comparing herself to Hale. Through Burstyn's performance, we understand the root of Claire's icy demeanor. "I think Claire was not loved very well as a child, and she developed her own devices for coping with that."

In "How to Get Away With Murder," Annalise Keating [Viola Davis] and Ophelia Harkness [Cicely Tyson] also have a strained and complicated mother-daughter relationship. Harkness feels neglected by her daughter and thinks she is selfish, but is also Keating's shoulder to cry on when needed. Keating wants home to be a refuge, but Harkness' tough-love parenting is a reminder that home can cause more problems than it solves.

In "The Path," Kathleen Turner appears in one episode ["A Homecoming"] to play Brenda Roberts, the estranged, alcoholic mother of Cal Roberts [Hugh Dancy]. The show only takes a few shots to set up their relationship: Dancy's character opens a door to an apartment, sees bottles of alcohol and crushes a still-smoking cigarette. Turner emerges from a shadowy doorway and Dancy, lips quivering, utters two words -"Hi, mom."

"I've always thought of myself as a character actor, and this was quite a character," Turner says. The two take turns dumping their emotional baggage - futile jabs over lifestyle choices; frustration over an absent father.

"You worry," Turner says. "I worried about her, whether she was just going to completely fade away, as it were. But, no, I don't think so - I think she'll be back. God only knows what she'll be like then."

Robert Wagner, who plays Anthony DiNozzo Sr. in "NCIS," is another guest actor looking to keep his role alive, despite his on-screen son's [Michael Weatherly] exit from the show. "There is some talk about them bringing me back into the fold of the ?NCIS' familyf Wagner says.

The actor says the father-son dynamic in the show taps into a common rift between parents and children, in and outside television. …

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