The Family Review: Something's All Wrong With ABC's Newest Clan, and It's Definitely All Right

grade_A-Serialized mysteries are a tricky thing. Dole out your secrets too slowly, and the audience gets bored. Front-load your bombshells in the first few episodes, there’s a risk viewers will roll their eyes and groan, “Well, this is all just a bit too much.”

Luckily for ABC , its latest entry into the genre, The Family, is like Baby Bear’s bowl of porridge in the story of Goldilocks: Not too hot, not too cold, and — at least based on the two hours screened for critics — so addictively delicious you’ll be scraping the sides of the bowl to make sure you don’t miss a morsel.

The pilot episode (airing Thursday, March 3, at 9/8c, before the show settles into its regular Sunday, 9/8c timeslot) begins with a jarring juxtaposition: Eight-year-old Adam Warren goes missing while his mother Claire campaigns for City Council; 10 years later, we see a teenage boy stumble out of the woods and back to Red Pines, Maine — claiming to be the presumed-dead child.

ZACH GILFORD, LIAM JAMES, JOAN ALLEN, ALISON PILL, RUPERT GRAVESWriter Jenna Bans (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal) excels at painting vivid characters who are never quite as they appear — but without every falling into the trap of making these folks behave preposterously just to advance a plot twist or to make us gasp before a commercial break.

Matriarch Claire can be scarily ambitious — she announces her gubernatorial bid mere days after Adam’s return, while he stands behind her like a dazed prop — but Oscar nominee Joan Allen brings so much nuance to the role that it’s easy to understand (and even sympathize with) the way this woman used politics and power to replace the Adam-sized hole in her life.

Similarly, every member of the Warren clan is harboring sins both glaring (eldest son Danny’s alcoholism) and hidden (religious daughter Willa’s enigmatic confessions) — but, as Adam (played in a state of eerily arrested development by The Killing‘s Liam James) underscores in one touching scene with Danny, they’ve got pretty good excuses for their bad behavior. (It helps that Friday Night Lights‘ Zach Gilford and The Newsroom‘s Alison Pill are infinitely watchable as they unspool Danny and Willa, as is Boardwalk Empire‘s Margot Bingham as the Det. Nina Meyer.)

ZACH GILFORDThere are, however, real monsters in this tale — and the entire enterprise is tinged with a palpable sense of dread over what happened to Adam in the past, whether this actually is Adam in the present, which of the Warrens might be guilty of more than garden-variety offenses, and what the heck is the story behind the not-so-innocent neighbor Hank (Pretty in Pink‘s Andrew McCarthy), the man who confessed to and has been imprisoned for Danny’s murder for the last decade.

Like the British accent that occasionally slips into Rupert Graves’ delivery (he plays patriarch John, who’s made a career writing about the grief of losing a child), there are a few arcs on The Family that could use a little work. A sideplot about a local newspaper investigation into the Warrens’ tragedy sticks out like a clichéd thumb, and the few glimpses we get of Adam’s apparent abductor feel like they’re transplanted from an altogether lesser and different series.

Still, those little missteps hardly detract from the thrills and chills of The Family. And as a result, we’re putting our faith in a series where no one seems completely trustworthy.

The TVLine Bottom Line: You wouldn’t want to be related to these people, but you’ll definitely want to spend time with The Family.

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. kirads09 says:

    i will definitely be checking this out. Love Joan Allen. Afraid though that it could meet the same fate as Resurrection so don’t know about longevity. Giving me the same feels.

  2. Taylor says:

    Lestrade! Seracen!

  3. rinaex says:

    I’m not going to be able to buy too much of the “Is this Adam?” if someone doesn’t insist on an DNA test within the first few episodes.

  4. Sarah says:

    This had me at Zach Gilford.

  5. spindae2 says:

    I thought I couldn’t look mor orrd to this but this show certainly seems to be hitting all the right notes, from casting to writing with an amazing execution. I mean the cast is just so yummy and wbat was shown so far really seems great.
    Can’t wait for the premiere.

  6. Emmy says:

    The only reason I’m skeptical a bit is because it is ABC and I’m pretty sure they have no intentions of ever giving us answers. That is their whole goal, have viewer coming back week after week wanting to know what happen, but end up making it more of a character study than an actually storyline with an end. They did it with Lost and Resurrection.

  7. Zeivah says:

    I feel like there has been a movie or mini series on something just like this before – same plot – same kid trying to be the lost kid…

  8. JP says:

    This was an episode of the X Files in season 8 I think

  9. Joey says:

    This is probably the show I’ve been looking forward to most this season. Glad to see TV Line thinks its worth watching.

  10. Shay DeShade says:

    I liked this when it was called Finding Carter and was on MTV. Like, last year.

    • johnhelvete says:

      This comment reminds me of the Finding Carter is just a ripoff of The Face on the Milk Carton when Carter premiered. Wasnt true of Finding Carter and I dont think it is true for The Family either.

  11. Ian says:

    This show has no buzz and a bland premise and a missable cast. It’ll be cancelled after a few episdoes2, if that.

  12. Mr. Tran K says:

    Great to see Matt Saracen aka Zach Gilford back on TV.

  13. tvjunkie says:

    The show sounds interesting, unfortunately I don’t have to time to watch what I already record and am on the verge of dropping a few shows I always fall way behind on.

  14. The Beach says:

    This sounds intriguing but why oh why do they insist on cramming all the good shows on Sunday nights? Arggggggg…spread the wealth.

  15. carpathia says:

    “but without every falling into the trap of making these folks behave preposterously just to advance a plot twist or to make us gasp before a commercial break.” <<<<<<<In other words, even though Bans wrote for Scandal, thankfully her show is not like Scandal.

  16. ScottJ says:

    Serialized mysteries are not at all a tricky thing. But if there’s only 5 episodes worth of story then they should only be 5 episodes long instead of being mucked about with to fit an archaic industry model of 10, 13, 22 episodes. The British TV industry knows this. Maybe one day the US industry will catch up.

    • johnhelvete says:

      I agree that the 13/22 episode network model is almost entirely driven by financial concerns and not creative. 10 episodes is more of newer, cable model, and does not qualify as “archaic”. In some ways I have more issues with a 13 episode cable or Netflix show that should have been 10 (or 12) than I do with the bloated 22 episode network show that would be better of doing 18 episodes. At least the networks have their desire for 88 episodes for syndication to fall back on for why they are doing 22, I dont think cable or Netflix really has an excuse for doing 13.

  17. Roma says:

    There’s a reason I don’t watch modern television and stick to the nostalgic from the 50’s-80’s. Not only was that the best era in television but there was NOTHING like it on and there still isn’t. Something started going terribly wrong with TV in the late 90’s and it has continued to progressively go downhill ever since. I think it’s safe to say that American Television has reached the point of no return. Television is certainly not what it used to be and never will be again. This is the worst generation ever for quality tv programming. I feel sorry for the teens and 20 somethings who think THEY have it good. They’re being royally robbed of quality television and are too brainwashed and blinded by ‘Vampire Diaries’ to realize it. Time to tuen off the tube and buy DVD classics!

    • David4 says:

      Some of the best comedies are on right now, like Blackish. Gravity Falls was one of the best cartoons ever. Nevermind great shows in the last 20 years like West Wing, Breaking Bad, Veronica Mars.

      You can’t always live in the past.

  18. bj says:

    I think all the people trying to pinpoint which other shows it might be like should just give it a look see. I watched it last night and as Michael said…it’s addictively delicious. I’ll definitely be coming back for more.

  19. Will says:

    Oh wow…Andrew McCarthy?

  20. James Scurry says:

    I believe viewers could be turned off because of the sensitive storyline. A missing child comes back alive to be with family, but it might not be the real son. It’s a TV show, but many viewers might not want to deal with the entertainment value of issue

  21. Suzanne Jenkins says:

    I sometimes feel the writers just add something /someone late Saturday night for the Sunday showing.

  22. Lisa says:

    Please don’t tell me you’re going to cancel this show everytime I see a show on this ABC channel it always happened to be cancelled this is one of the good shows I have seen in a long time besides secrets and lies

    • Joann G. says:

      I hope they DO NOT CANCEL this show..It is sooo good..And so was Secrets and lies… It’s worth another season people..