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02 Mar 2016

True TV: Stump With 'The Family' and 'House of Cards'; Dump 'Damien'

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The Family stars Joan Allen as Maine politician Claire Warren, an aspiring candidate for governor whose campaign is rocked by the sudden return of her son Adam (Liam James), who was presumed murdered a decade ago. The Family stars Joan Allen as Maine politician Claire Warren, an aspiring candidate for governor whose campaign is rocked by the sudden return of her son Adam (Liam James), who was presumed murdered a decade ago.

The Family (Thursday, March 3, ABC), series debut: ABC has only launched a single winner in the 2015-16 TV season: Quantico (aka Federal Beautiful Investigators, aka How to Get Away With Homeland—which returns March 6, if you were wondering). Everything else has been DOA, and The Family will likely be no different. The dully named “political thriller” stars Joan Allen as Maine politician Claire Warren, an aspiring candidate for governor whose campaign is rocked by the sudden return of her son Adam (Liam James), who was presumed murdered a decade ago. Is Claire’s politically prudent persona as a “survivor” in jeopardy? Will the wrongly ailed “killer” (Andrew McCarthy) seek revenge? Where the hell’s Adam been—if it’s really even him? Is the Warren family harboring even more secrets and lies than ABC’s other lamely titled drama, Secrets and Lies? Couldn’t this have all been wrapped up in a Lifetime movie? So many questions, so few mehs to give.

House of Cards (Friday, March 4, Netflix), season premiere: Speaking of political thrillers, TV’s second-most-realistic Beltway series (the first being HBO’s Veep, of course), House of Cards, is back for Season 4, and facing steep challenges: bouncing back after a relatively weak third season, the impending departure of its showrunner, and competition with the ongoing tragi-comedy that is our current presidential election cycle. President Frank (Kevin Spacey) and First Lady Claire (Robin Wright) are still at odds, and Frank’s Democratic-nomination win against Heather Dunbar (Elizabeth Marvel) is looking far less assured than Hillary Clinton’s is in real life (sorry, Bernie-acs). That’s not the end of his female problems—Ellen Burstyn and Neve Campbell are also onboard for S4—and they, thankfully, bring out the darker and dirtier sides of Fightin’ Frank that made House of Cards’ first two seasons click. And no, the news media still doesn’t come off well … at all.

Bates Motel (Monday, March 7, A&E), season premiere: After a couple of years of hinting at it, Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) finally started becoming Psycho Norman Bates last season—and occasionally Norma, even though Bates Motel already has a perfectly fantastic Norma (Vera Farmiga—why has she not won all of the awards for this role?!). As Season 4 opens, Norman’s still on the run to avoid being checked into a pricey loony bin (20 grand a month? Might as well just send him to rehab in Malibu with Andy Dick); Emma (Olivia Cooke) is closer than ever to no longer being “Oxygen Tank Girl” (though I will still insist on referring to her as such); and Norma is closer-er than ever to finally going to Bone Town with Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell). If you haven’t yet—hacky TV critic joke alert—checked into Bates Motel, do it now: There’s only one more season to come after this.

Damien (Monday, March 7, A&E), series debut: Are they sure it wasn’t a “999” on the back of the baby’s head? Easy mistake, just sayin.’ This latest take on Keeping Up With the Antichrist was created and produced by Glen Mazzara (The Shield, The Walking Dead), and features some veteran onscreen talent (Barbara Hershey and Walking Dead alum Scott Wilson), but do we really need a grown-up Damien? Star Bradley James (Merlin) has none of the devilish charisma of Fox’s Lucifer, or even a houseplant on the set of Lucifer, so all of the impressively creepy cinematography and whispery foreboding Mazzara can conjure isn’t going to make Damien the viable Bates Motel companion piece that A&E still needs. (Remember The Returned? Yeah, neither does anyone else.) Maybe try a Phantasm remake series next year.

Of Kings and Prophets (Tuesday, March 8, ABC), series debut: Between The Family, The Real O’Neals and Of Kings and Prophets, this is shaping up to be the worst ABC midseason in years—and they haven’t even dropped Uncle Buck yet. Of Kings and Prophets was originally pitched by the showrunners as a “sexy Biblical epic,” which, naturally, means: “We set out to make a cable-caliber drama loaded with steamy sex and bloody violence … but then the network stepped in and watered it down while we updated our résumés in the breakroom.” 

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