Cast: Kyle Chandler. Ben Mendelsohn. Sam Shepard. Sissy Spacek. Jamie McShane.
Netflix is enjoying rampant success with their own unique products such as ‘Orange Is The New Black’ and wisely jumping on the gold tinted, convertible band wagon of Marvel with ‘Daredevil’ leaping onto our screens soon. This venture is a little left field as Netflix ambitiously partners with Sony Productions and finds the self with Hollywood actors at their disposal. Instead of churning out yet more of the trendy, written by numbers, money printing shell of a show they instead opt for a strange and unique atmosphere in this original piece.
The set up is simple as was the trailer briefly released to a eerie Metallica cover, the mystery was enough to entice an audience luckily but did the show keep them hooked like a helpless, entertainment seeking fish or did it flounder in the murky sea of irrelevance? The story is simply a family of five who live in Florida Keys and how their lives are disrupted by the sudden return of the eldest child Danny (Mendelsohn). The show was criticised early as reviewers only received the first three episodes and deemed this less than necessary for a full and frank review, the point is though that they wanted to watch more. This is the slowest of slow burners, a series that burns so slow you may even question if it’s freezing instead, until the episode ends and your desire for the next one boils and simmers to the surface.
The location is beautiful and rustic, a broken paradise that can seem bleak in its endless, lovely scenery and uncomfortable in its gorgeous, tropical heat. This metaphor commenting on hidden ugliness is not as heavy handed as it seems and is instead unique in how well it mirrors the tension of the story. A storm briefly simulates a rise in the plots tempo but is not leaned on too heavily and characters sweat in the heat just as they sweat in the searing light of the truth shone on their hurriedly laid web of lies. The music is solemn and soulful betraying the underlying passion racing in an often underrated and personal series.
The story is encapturing but by no means perfect, a seemingly idyllic family unravels as cracks appear and the ugly truth seeps through them. This family does have enough skeletons in the closet to make the Tory party seem like a Methodist bible study group! Sometimes it does feel like every tragedy cliche is being thrown at this one family and the realism fades In favour of the bright, twinkling lights of some extra drama, especially at the end of the series. This does cheapen the story and the plight of the characters somewhat and it can feel cheesey like ‘Home And Away’ just got dark for a season. The delivery of these plot points however is majestic and the saving grace. Flash forwards are meaningful and early which surprised me and dissapointed me at it’s as I feared they had tipped their hand too much, as in thrown the entire deck of cards directly in my hands! However the flash backs and flash forwards however predictable they’re are still keep the tension involved and infused with enough mystery to make Miss Marple explode into a fiery blaze of well mannered confusion and tweed. Memories invade the scenes and characters react to sounds and people stampeding into their senses like jigsaw pieces falling into place from a hazy and painful height. A distorted ukulele note cuts through the air and through time, a woman silently screams beside them and an elusive memory of a forgotten necklace shimmers just out of reach. These memories are dangerous, real and fighting to be remembered.
Flashbacks of the season end are also thrown in from different perspectives as if the fates themselves are deciding but they stagger the imagination and its a morbid joy to watch how they come around and also fit together. The sisters flash forward seems an over reaction and ends up being a wry haunting and worth the wait. A voice over of seeming regret unwinds into something much more sinister and self serving. The pacing can be slow but it makes the content seem heavy and meaningful, our characters are flawed but dragging themselves in through the turmoil and you can’t help but root for them or want to watch them all. This is a well laid out saga by the gods of TV writing, and it’s frightening to watch them work on the lives of these helpless characters.
The characters are simple and familiar, Kyle Chandler looks more like the idea of a sheriff than the actual badge itself and plays John Rayburn the second eldest, responsible child who solves the problems of the family and wears this burden as a giant, well polished halo. Sam Shepard and Sissy Spacek are delightfully quaint and honestly flawed as the parents who built their family hotel in paradise like a tainted, sandy garden of Eden. Linda Cardellini is Meg the youngest daughter no wfully grown and on an epic quest to please everyone in the world and find the shortest skirt she could possibly wear…these two points may sometimes be connected. Norbert Leo Butz is Kevin the young, hot headed brother who works on boats and is generally grinding the gears of your patience rather than that of the engines he tries to fix. Jamie McDhane is great support as generic low life Eric O’Bannon and Enrique Murciano as Meg’s boyfriend smarms and winks his way through life in a way that makes it hard to feel sorry for him and more like I want to kick him….badly. The real belle of this heartbreak ball though is the man creepier than a music less, slow dance in a morgue, Ben Mendelsohn as Danny Rayburn. Danny is the prodigal son and the catalyst of the demise for the blissful ignorance of this serene family.
All the cast perform admirably with unlikable and even irredeemable characters being equally steeped in mistakes and tragedy that truly injects meaning into their madness and sympathy or at least investment into the mind of the viewer. They have dug their graves but that doesn’t mean it’s any easier to see the reason why they pick up the spade to begin with or any less fascinating to watch them fall in. Kyle Chandler is fantastic Ben Mendelsohn gives another spellbinding performance as lovable, volatile maestro of mischief, a walking tinderbox lighting his own fuse for at any moment. Any scene these two share sparks and is charged with enough electricity to power an entire warren of Duracell bunnies. They verbally joust with the ferocity and familiarity of Shakesperian siblings, every parry and lunge revealing another scar from another battle either with or against each other. Every moment is planned and with a goal as their brotherly scrapping ascends towards it’s inevitable plummet, culminating into a sudden, visceral and fitting end.
I found this series as captivating as the landscape it’s filmed in and the most fulfilling a TV journey has been in a long while. The format is bold and executed with conviction and skill, a desire to create a carefully woven tapestry of drama spanning a lifetime. I’m happy to hear a second series is in the works although I worry that with all the family drama focused on the same household this could become more soapy than an overly washed plate. I would have preferred an anthology approach akin to that of ‘True Detective’ or ‘American Horror Story’ freeing up the writers to tackle different family situations without heaping them on one set of characters. The last run of episode was some of the finest watching these eyes have ever done yet the last scene ‘reveal’ untied a sturdy knot of satisfaction with sickening ease. This story will miss certain cast members and I only hope this sturdy show weathers the torrid storm of future tragedy and second series issues. A uncompromising and captivating watch that will hopefully remain so over the horizon.
The verdict: A well worn path of sorrow but told in a refreshingly vivid manner, a haunting experience that hopefully lives as long as the secrecy of the family it portrays.