Last night, ABC premiered their new crime drama ‘Red Widow’ with a special back-to-back two episode launch. TVRage watched it--so what do we think?
I’d like to begin this review with an anecdote about something that has confused me about television over the past few years. I am a wannabe actor, appearing in low-budget web videos of no consequence--but even these tiny productions involve dozens of people working long hours and sinking a lot of money in order to bring them to fruition. That means that a new pilot being produced for a network like ABC, for instance, involves a massive team of people working together and spending obscene amounts of money in order to pull the project off.
So... why is it that so often it seems to be the script that falls short?
With all of that money and talent behind a project, would you not want to get the words on the page as perfect as possible before asking everyone to move forward?
I found myself wondering this once again as I watched the premiere two episodes of ‘Red Widow.’ This is a strange situation to be in, as a reviewer: the show looks beautiful, the cast is stellar, the music and production are all seamless... and the script gives the viewer absolutely no reason to keep watching.
‘Red Widow’ is a crime thriller about the wife of a small-time organized criminal affiliated with the Russian mob. Radha Mitchell (from the wonderful feature ‘Melinda and Melinda’) plays Marta Walraven, the seemingly-average wealthy housewife raising three kids in Marin County. Her criminal husband Evan is played by Anson Mount, the star of AMC’s underrated series ‘Hell on Wheels.’ Even before turning to the rest of the ensemble cast, the talent of this key couple is already apparent; Mitchell is perfectly cast as both beautiful, capable, loving and potentially fierce. While Mount’s character doesn’t stick around past the first episode (it isn’t really a spoiler when it’s in the show’s advertising, is it?), his look and presence adds a gravitas to the pilot that helps the viewer want to care about these characters. None of the folly of ‘Red Widow’ can be laid at Radha Mitchell’s feet; she does an admirable job with what little has been given to her Marta character.
Another member of Marta’s family is the surprising Sterling Beaumon (‘LOST’ ‘Clue’) as Gabriel Walraven. Beaumon impresses easily in this role, as perhaps the most interesting and rounded character in the show. Gabriel is Marta’s teenaged son, who steps up to help take care of his family after his father’s death. Beaumon’s talent even at his young age is obvious and I expect big things from that name over the next ten years.
Other cast members of note include Clifton Collins Jr. (‘Hellbenders’ ‘Parker’) as FBI Agent James Ramos, on the other side of the law than the Walraven clan but seemingly an earnest supporter of Marta & her family. Two more pleasant surprises are Goran Visnjic (‘Pan Am’) as the powerful underworld boss Christian Schiller and Luke Goss (‘Blade II’ Hellboy II: The Golden Army’) as Luther, a soldier in the Russian mob who looks out for Marta & her children. Both Visnjic and Goss bring a quiet strength to their characters, making them seem capable of seemingly anything without them having to prove it at any point.
So I bet you’re getting the point by now: ‘Red Widow’ has an excellent cast. As I mentioned above, the show is well-shot, it looks crisp and cinematic and leaves little to be desired.
So what is the problem with ‘Red Widow?’
ABC selected to air the first two episodes of ‘Red Widow’ back to back, giving us two hours of new programming... and the plot that transpired over those two hours could have easily fit into a single half-hour program. To call ‘Red Widow’ slow is an understatement; if ‘Red Widow’ were a bicycle, other television series are a bullet train. The show is based on a Dutch TV show from 2010, but I can’t imagine the Dutch version having this same painstaking pace.
We are presented with a cadre of over a dozen characters at the beginning of the pilot as their associations and relationships to one another are drawn... and then, by the end of the second hour-long episode, none of those characters or relationships have altered in any way. If the characters in the drama were positioned on a chess board, the end of the second episode maybe takes us to the movement of the first pawn. The only surprising action taken by the Marta character is a detriment rather than a boon to the program, as she throws herself at a complete stranger while still in mourning over her loving husband’s demise. While this scene certainly counts as a plot point (albeit maybe the only one), it serves to stretch the viewer’s patience both in the Marta character and the direction of ‘Red Widow’ in general.
‘Red Widow’ is about a woman who is pulled into a dark world of organized crime in order to protect her children. It doesn’t ask us to forgive her sins... it doesn’t ask us to even like her. The show makes no demands of the viewer whatsoever and simply exists. When wondering why anyone would want to tune in to ‘Red Widow’ for a third episode after watching the first two, I was reminded of the famous line spoken by George Costanza on ‘Seinfeld’ when he is pitching a show to NBC: when George is asked why anyone would watch the program, he responds “because it’s on TV!”
Seemingly, ABC fell back on the same reasoning with ‘Red Widow.’
It is a crime series. It is on TV. Outside of those facts, this is a project with no meat on its bones.
It really is a shame to have to give a series a poor review when the casting director for the program clearly did such a phenomenal job. But, as much for missed opportunity as for anything else, ‘Red Widow’ can’t get higher than a grade of C.