With 'The Family,' Grim Storytellers At ABC Are At It Again

“The Family” is not exactly family fare.

This is the new ABC drama series starring Joan Allen that received so much exposure Sunday night, thanks to all the promo spots ABC ran for the show during the Oscars.

The promos were designed to arouse curiosity and boost viewership (or at least sampling) of the premiere episode of the show four days later -- tonight (Thursday) at 9 Eastern. That’s not the show's regular time period, however. It settles into its regular slot -- Sunday night at 9 -- this weekend with Episode Two. The Oscar-night promos will probably draw some, if not many, to Thursday’s premiere. But whether they will return on Sunday night remains an open question.

That will depend on the audience’s appetite for yet another over-the-top and wholly unrealistic serialized drama series from ABC in which everyone harbors a dirty secret. The show is not helped by the method that the writers and producers have chosen to tell this family's story, nor by its subject matter, which has to do with a boy who was apparently held captive and sexually assaulted by a pedophile for 10 years.

How do we know it has been 10 years? Because the words “10 Years Ago” appear often on-screen every time the writers of this show feel the necessity to spring a flashback on us. The “x-number of years ago” flashback is Exhibit A in this show’s toolkit of TV storytelling clichés. The other one is -- you guessed it -- the dreaded narrator (for more on this subject, see the review earlier this week of the new ABC comedy “The Real O’Neals”).

“The Family” starts with narration by a cop -- a female detective on the police force in a fictional city in Maine called Red Pines -- which, for a city in Maine, seems to have more than its realistic share of tall buildings. And its police force seems a tad large too. In any case, we soon learn from the narration and relentless flashbacks that this detective was on the case 10 years before when this kid named Adam Warren went missing. 

And she happened to be in the police headquarters building in the present day when a teenage boy (played by Liam James, pictured with Joan Allen above) walked into the building and announced he was the kid who disappeared 10 years before.

This is the basis for the story in “The Family” -- mainly, how this family was changed and damaged by the sudden disappearance of Adam, the youngest sibling of three children. Allen plays the mother, Claire, who happens to be the mayor of Red Pines and aspires to be the governor of Maine. 

Rupert Graves plays her husband, John. In the present day, the two are either separated or divorced (this isn't made clear in the first two episodes). They have their secrets, though. For example, Claire holds a news conference to announce she is running for governor, but neglects to tell her husband or her children, who were nevertheless recruited to stand dutifully beside her at this news conference.

And husband John has long been involved in an extramarital affair. And would't you know it? He's fooling around with the aforementioned detective from his own son's missing-persons case!

This is the kind of touch that just has me rolling my eyes when I watch shows like this one, particularly one scene in which John and the lady detective are alone in what seems to be a police interrogation room, and of course, they have sex. And it's not really nice, romantic sex either.

Instead, she is doubled over the interrogation table and he's, well, doing it with a sneer on his face. But hey, this is prime-time TV on ABC, a world where two adult characters in a drama show are not allowed to be alone in a room together without sex occurring – you know, just like in real life.

It was an ugly scene, and far from the only one in this show. In fact, I sometimes get the impression that the people who develop dramas at ABC have a fetish for the grimmest situations they can find and then make them into TV shows. “American Crime” (about the alleged rape of a teenage boy by other boys), “Wicked City” (last fall's atrocious flop about a serial killer) and even “How To Get Away With Murder” (wherein murder is the whole point of the show) are all examples of this.

As for the odds of many viewers tuning in to “The Family” on Thursday night and then choosing to watch Episode Two on Sunday night, here is some surprising news: Despite all of its negative qualities, I found myself curious enough about what might happen next to watch Episode Two. And somehow, I survived the experience.

“The Family” premieres Thursday night (March 3) at 9 Eastern on ABC, and moves to its regular time Sunday night (March 6) at 9.

Next story loading loading..