The best way I can think of to describer Netflix’s newest drama, BLOODLINE, is a “dark Parenthood with less focus on being parents.” It resolves around four adult siblings who interact amongst each other and their parents, though at least one of them has children, too, and two others are in serious relationships. But it’s much, much less soapy than the beloved NBC drama, with a depressingly dark plot teased in flash-forwards throughout the pilot, on the level of an HBO or AMC series. Going into the episode with almost no prior knowledge, this review judges the pilot on its merits alone, avoiding any big spoilers.
The main character seems to be John Rayburn (Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights), who is not the oldest, but definitely has a position of authority in both the family and the town in the Florida Keys in which they’re all from. He’s the most grown up, with a wife, Diana (Jacinda Barrett, Zero Hour), and two not-so-little kids. Chandler does seem to be channeling Coach Taylor, his previous character, at times, especially when talking about poaching players. But who can complain when he chews up the scenes so well?
He is joined by sister Meg, (Linda Cardellini, Mad Men, ER), who has just gotten engaged, and brother Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz, Dan in Real Life), whose blood runs a little hotter than his siblings. Together, the three are entrusted by their parents, Sally (Sissy Spacek, Big Love, Carrie) and Robert (Sam Shepard, Klondike, The Right Stuff), to make decisions for the clan and the family business, a resort that Sally runs.
The fly in the ointment, if you will is, eldest brother Danny (Ben Mendelsohn, The Dark Knight Rises). Danny is the loser that never matured and always wants a handout, usually money. He is egged on by a pal, and generally gets in the way. Sally still loves Danny, as does John, but that’s doesn’t mean Danny could easily come home, even if he wants to, which he may not.
This is the premise, a relatively simple, familiar one that BLOODLINE begins with. The first hour isn’t exactly action-packed, dealing with dynamics at a family reunion that includes many unimportant relations, just extras really. The vast majority of the running time is given over to dwelling on individual personalities of the core group, not just introducing them, but immediately deepening their motivations and desires. It’s a character-heavy piece of television, and one will leave the pilot knowing the most central players pretty well.
There is a sense of momentum, though, with the flash forwards. In general, I’m really getting sick of television shows showing us the end of the story early on, an overused trope. In BLOODLINE, though, it doesn’t feel that way, perhaps because the series needs them to keep its pacing up. The flashes definitely seem more like the middle of a tale than the ending, even with what is revealed at the end. In this, and because of how short they are, it’s more of a tantalizing tease than the big fat spoiler a lot of shows do.
It’s about time we got a family drama that isn’t soapy or sappy. There is an authenticity to the chemistry, the people in it feeling like they’re going about their daily lives. I compared BLOODLINE to Parenthood before, and I absolutely adore that series, but this is far more grounded and gritty, at least initially. Events teased may take the direction into noir film-esque territory, but even so, this sets BLOODLINE apart from other currently available offerings on the small screen.
In the end, I’m left interested in continuing. I’m not in love with the characters or setting, but I don’t think one could be right away in a show with a somber tone like this one. Instead, I’m intrigued by the mystery and the ensemble’s make up, and I think that’s a good sign.
All 13 episodes of BLOODLINE’s first season are available on Netflix.