Hit or Sh**: ABC’s THE FAMILY

In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.

nbc the family

Sometimes you don’t need to be good to be good. Created and executive produced by Jenna Bans (an acolyte of Shonda Rhimes), THE FAMILY is a story of a missing child and the people affected by his disappearance. The people in question are the Warrens, a politically-minded family lead by Claire (Joan Allen of THE CONTENDER), an aspiring politician at the start of the pilot and the eventual mayor of the town where our story takes place.

the family political family

Political family doing political things to get higher up in politics to do more political things

The show spares no punches in making the profiteering family feel incredibly disgusting, but if anything it doesn’t happen enough in this episode. The brunt of the pilot sets up Claire’s son Adam’s disappearance and how each family member benefits from the outpouring of sympathy for them in the aftermath. Until, of course, Adam returns. The show seems to be at its best when it’s exploring the prickly ways that enterprising people can benefit from trauma. It stumbles, however, when it wades through melodrama and soap operatics to get there. A certain amount of “over the topness” can be fun. “Good bad” shows have long had a place on ABC . The key difference is that the shows that straddle the line, primarily those created by Shonda Rhimes, carry elements that more often than not elevate them over the traditional fluff that characterizes Sunday night programming. They feature diverse casts and plotlines dealing with polarizing issues that only that high level of diversity (and acting ability) allow. THE FAMILY has neither of these to its credit. It’s plain as milquetoast. Pulp for white people.

the family over the top

Over the top to a fault, but in no way milquetoast

The possibilities of its plot do hold promise, but your mileage may vary. The role older sister Willa Warren plays in Adam’s disappearance is interesting and just vague enough to be expanded upon in interesting ways. Father John Warren’s affair with the detective helping the family is very dumb, but supplies what must be some kind of quota for sexy interactions in these kinds of shows. (It’s also worth noting that John Warren is played by Rupert Graves, best known in the U.S. for his role on BBC’s SHERLOCK as DI Lestrade.) Seeing him do a bad East Coast accent is deliciously bizarre (if not strangely concerning in regards to his acting career). The only other weird thing that is worth keeping an eye on is Adam himself (Liam James). His memory is spotty and his behavior almost as bizarre as his father’s fake accent. It’s sort of mysterious, but not nearly enough to build a show on, which more or less sums up the problems of the show as a whole. There’s some interesting things (that on any other show could be fascinating things), but they are not handled with care and they do not happen nearly enough.


THE FAMILY airs on ABC on Sundays

Ian Campbell is a guest contributor here at Crossfader. He wants you to like him just as much as he wants you to like the things he likes. He recommends you give Damon Lindelof a break.

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