ABC’s new ‘Family’ is a nightmare

Review of the TV show "The Family."
Joan Allen, Liam James and Rupert Graves in The Family (ABC)


Tonight, ABC premier’s it new thriller/mystery show, The Family before moving it to its regular time slot on Sundays. With so many people watching shows OnDemand or by other means, it probably doesn’t make a difference, but I never understand why a network will show a premiere a TV show on a different day. If you miss tonight’s show, you might never know what is going on. ABC is really pushing this show (if you watched the Oscars, you know what I mean) and I wonder if the network is actually worried about it.
ABC is already calling the show their “new addictive drama” and it might be. After watching the pilot, I’m certainly intrigued to know more, but I hope that the show knows the direction that it’s going in and not making up the story as they go. Unlike other shows, The Family is unbalanced. It has moments of brilliant writing sandwiched between some really bad lines (“I want the big piece. I want the frosting.”) It also stars some incredible talent in the form of Joan Allen, Rupert Graves and Andrew McCarthy to work alongside some less-than-stellar actors. And it also has a keen mystery tied with some over-used clichés.

As you know from watching the trailers, the show is about the Warren family. The mother, Claire (Allen), is running for office and it isn’t going well at a local fair. Her kids run off to have some fun and mom warns the older ones to “watch Adam,” only they don’t. He turns up missing and later is presumed to be dead. The family is questioned by a young detective, Nina Meyer, (Margot Bingham) who is bent on making a good impression. She tracks down who she thinks is the killer, a neighbor, Hank Asher (McCarthy) and he goes to jail. Case closed.

Ten years later, a young teen is seen wandering the streets late at night looking lost and confused. He says that he’s Adam (Liam James) and the Warren’s family’s lives, and those they know, are turned upside down once again.

The Family, at least in the pilot episode, bounces back and forth from today and ten year’s earlier. We see how this idyllic family is nothing like the one that they like to present to the public. Getting much sympathy from the local town, Claire won that election and currently serves as the town mayor, so appearance is everything. At first it appears that she and her husband, John (Rupert Graves) have a solid marriage, but that’s a lie. Their older son, Danny (Zach Gilford) is now a drunk and the black sheep of the family. Middle child Willa (Alison Pill) serves as Claire’s campaign manager and has become strongly religious in the Catholic faith. Hank Asher is freed from ten years of prison life for a crime he did not commit and Nina Meyer lives with guilt for sending an innocent man to prison. Each of them have their shortcomings with very little “goodness” showing in their character. Time will tell if this changes.

The mystery continues on where was Adam being held all this time? Who kidnapped him and why? And if he really is Adam, how come his DNA doesn’t match. And if Adam isn’t really Adam – they who is?

Is the show worth watching? It’s definitely worth checking out. As a Christian, I am interested in how they will use the religion angle if at all. The Family shows how grief and large events in one life can destroy a family and it will be interesting to see if they can ever be whole again. I am already rooting for a redemptive storyline, but the pilot doesn’t hint of one, so we’ll have to see. If this is just another show of bad people doing bad things for bad reasons, then count me out.

As mentioned before, they show has some weak spots. Alison Pill is totally miscast as Willa. She looks and acts too young for the part and her role as her mother’s manager doesn’t seem realistic, but maybe that’s the point. In addition, her angry acting is over the top. Actually, there is a lot of angry acting with this show as character fly off the handle in a matter of seconds. The young Adam seems wrong for the part too and says things like a boy his age wouldn’t say. Finally, there are those lines that are meant to make you feel creeped out but just make you roll your eyes instead.

The Family seems like it could be a cross between ABC’s failed show, Resurrection (which started out really good but lost its way somewhere down the line) and last summer’s big limited series, Secrets and Lies which ended on a good solid note. Both had many moments of forgiveness and redemptive moments which made those shows worth watching. Only time will tell if this trail is worth following.

The Family airs premiere's March 3 at 9:00 p.m. and then moves to its permanent time slot on Sunday, March 6 at 9:00 p.m. as well.

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