Animal Kingdom: Season 1

| April 24, 2017

When Joshua’s (Finn Cole) mother dies of a drug overdose, his grandmother, Smurf (Ellen Barkin; Ocean’s 13), takes him in and wastes no time getting him involved in the family business: bank heists.  Josh’s uncles – Baz (Scott Speedman; Underworld), Pope (Shawn Hatosy; Alpha Dog), Craig (Ben Robson), and Deran (Jake Weary) – at their mother’s request, show Josh the ropes while pushing him to become one of them and abandon the good kid he was before.

Even without watching the entire first season here, I can see why people would respond to it favorably.  There’s enough sex and machoness for broad appeal, the characters start to reveal idiosyncrasies early on, and the concept of a heist is inherently interesting because everyone on the crew is forced to trust each other more than is possible, causing tensions to rise.  Normally, the heists alone would be enough to get me to watch the rest of the season and keep an eye out for Season 2 when it airs, but actually their one really uninteresting aspect of the series here.  The one heist I saw, in the first episode, consisted of the brothers driving a truck into a jewelry store and snatching a bunch of stuff.  There’s no subtlety or planning or nuance to it.  I would try to justify this as thematically justified in their characters as the four brothers all compete for alpha status within the family.  They’re brazen and blunt and impulsive, so a smash and grab job seems right up their alley, but it doesn’t seem like the type of heist their mother would orchestrate.

Ellen Barkin is terrific in this series.  She’s cold as ice, but more than that seems to enjoy the control she has over her family.  You get the sense she’s seduce one of her sons just to see if she could.  But her actions are not without purpose.  When she attempts to drive wedges between Joshua and his girlfriend Nicky (Molly Gordon), it’s not because she dislikes her, or thinks he’s better off without the distraction, but instead is meant to make him more reliant on her and her sons and the lifestyle she’s offering.  The series then becomes a game between Josh and Smurf with Josh’s soul at stake.  From what I’ve seen, it doesn’t seem like Josh is even aware of this game’s existence or that he’s been playing since day one, but it’d be interesting to see where things go from here and where Josh is forced to make compromises to his humanity in order to keep what’s important to him.  That too would be enough for me to keep watching if I thought Josh was a compelling enough character, but in the episodes I watched he was the least developed member of the family.  Nicky has more going on, Uncle Pops is a psychopath, Uncle Craig is a drug addict, and Uncle Deran is gay.  Josh is just quiet and a pushover and neither make for a very interesting character.

Available now on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Bros.

About the Author:

Joe Sanders Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
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