‘The Family’ Review: ABC Piles On Drama To Little Effect

ABC is no stranger to “sticking with what works” to the point of spitting out shows that are almost cruel, and The Family is one more spin at the Broadchurch et al wheel with little that can hope to especially impress.

It isn’t that the elements aren’t all there… or at least, I suppose, that some elements aren’t there, but nothing sets this one apart. We’re used to the gimmick now, and unless every next “drama for drama’s sake” long-arc vehicle is going to hit, this one quickly becomes forgettable.

It isn’t even just that the format is becoming overly familiar, but we’ve recently danced with the return of the lost child premise several times, and combined with the style, pensive looks, and “this is the family/town where everything happened” construction, the positives are crushed under the weight.

In mythical Red Pines, Maine, Claire (Joan Allen) is the mother of a boy, Adam (Liam James), who went missing a decade ago. No simple missing person’s case, neighbor Hank (Andrew McCarthy) was actually convicted of murdering the boy, despite a body never having been found. Hank is obviously soon released when the show gets going.

Once Adam turns up again, the show flashes back in time frequently to offer us a look at the family itself, and the circumstances that surround Adam’s disappearance. This also provides insight to a vast network of effects resulting from Adam’s disappearance, Hank’s conviction, Adam’s return, and even his brother’s lingering doubt that Adam is Adam.

The Family ABC
ABC/Giovanni Rufino

Claire, not to be too harsh, parlayed her misfortune into her political career, and she is now the mayor of Red Pines, and is running for Governor. But, her marriage isn’t exactly doing that well, and where losing a child obviously strains things, having him return is apparently no picnic either.

The show plays out in dark and brooding form, and can’t manage to miss a chance for things to turn even more dramatic, even when that simply means staring at something for an extra ten seconds. The camera zooms and turns in such a way that it hopes to suck the gasp out of you itself, never mind what you’re looking at.

As I said, the pieces ought to all be there, and in some sense they are, but unless you’re willing to lose yourself completely (or, you’re a huge fan of Scandal), it teeters awfully close to self-mockery. All the drama is revealed in not just Scandalous fashion, but moves toward Pretty Little Liars fashion as well (which is an odd way to have to put that, because PLL is the better show).

Joan Allen has to carry too much of the contrivance, and considering that she is joined by The Killing alum Liam James, she ought to be better at it. Her affect is consistently odd, and not just for a mother who has had a child return, but for a mother at all. Perhaps the nonsensical weight of the political world in Maine has thrown her emotional ground out of whack, but she doesn’t convey the sense of belief, and/or disbelief, that’s following her around this show.

Where her other son is meant to question the sudden appearance of Adam, and the audience is supposed to be unsure about Hank’s guilt or innocence, Claire is the emotional equivalent of having a ghost in the room. You can’t believe she believes anything.

Worst of all, McCarthy is up against it in every scene, because the writing is so bizarre when it comes to his character. Once he’s free, he does little but act vaguely guilty, and that’s when he isn’t acting simply vague. It becomes a kind of tribute to LOST as he is supposed to be everything, and it doesn’t matter if it makes sense, because we’ll throw out something else even more crazy later. He’s guilty. He’s innocent. He’s guilty. Wait, the kid isn’t dead. Or, is that really the kid? Well, he’s guilty of something. Round and round she goes.

On the plus side, much like the weaker portion of the mash-up this show hopes for, it’s a series that lets you know where you are. It may get a little weirder throughout the first few episodes, but there aren’t any surprises when it comes to the kind of effort you’re going to get. Sure, you didn’t know that so-and-so was really sleeping with whoever, or everyone has their own bag of secrets in the basement, and will threaten people with them, but you aren’t surprised that there are those kind of surprises.






A family is shaken to the core when a politician’s presumed dead son suddenly returns.  After disappearing a decade earlier, Adam Warren’s homecoming to Red Pines, Maine, is initially met with astonishment and joy, but suspicions soon begin to emerge. Is he really who he says he is? The boy’s shocking reappearance forces the entire family to re-examine who they are and unearths long-buried secrets, betrayals and heartache, in the riveting new thriller, “The Family,” which will debut with a special premiere, on THURSDAY, MARCH 3 (9:00-10:00 p.m. EST), with a second, all-new episodeon SUNDAY, MARCH 6 (9:00-10:00 p.m. EST), for its regular time period premiere, on the ABC Television Network.






Marc Eastman
Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.

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