Animal Kingdom

By Ryan, Maureen | Variety, June 14, 2016 | Go to article overview

Animal Kingdom


Ryan, Maureen, Variety


Animal Kingdom

Series: TNT, Tues. June 14,9 p.m.

Showrunner: Jonathan Lisco

Starring: Ellen Barkin, Scott Speedman, Shawn Hatosy

It makes a certain kind of sense that the crime drama "Animal Kingdom," based on a 2010 Australian film of the same name, ends up being as deceptive as the family at its heart. At first, the TNT show looks as though it may be a promising showcase for Ellen Barkin, who stars as the matriarch of a beachside clan that lives well, thanks to its penchant for cleverly executed heists.

But in the course of the drama's first three episodes, it becomes apparent that, despite its characters' shady pasts and dicey decisions, the show is fairly predictable and even conventional. Its characters never really do anything all that surprising: It's no shock that a family united by heists would end up breaking all sorts of other laws, and anytime anyone on screen utters the sentence, "There are no secrets in this family? that's the cue for a scene or two of duplicitous behavior.

Though the cast is packed with solid actors clearly eager to play morally shady characters, the writing lacks the depth and texture that would make the Cody family's crime sprees, troubled relationships, and simmering arguments worth following. There's little context and history behind the "shocking" actions that are meant to signal that the show is willing to go to dark places, and this makes it difficult to care about what occurs or about the ramifications of those acts.

It's a tribute to Barkin that she almost makes Janine "Smurf" Cody work as a character. Smurf controls the purse strings - and the emotions - of the Cody gang. She's constantly preparing food for her four sons, who, as "Animal Kingdom" begins, are feeling restive on their short leashes. But she keeps them deprived in other ways; there's a slightly incestuous vibe to how she interacts with all the young men in her orbit, whether or not they're tied to her by blood. And there's a calculated strategy behind the way she disciplines her boys by either withholding her attention or lavishing them with her creepy love, and Barkin is charismatic enough to inject those scenes with ambiguity.

The actress gives the character a queenly walk and a tough, steely vibe, but, despite Barkin's formidable abili- ties, Smurf never quite becomes the loveto-hate-her character she needs to be, in part because some of the worst things she does make it easy to write her off as a garden-variety sociopath. …

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