Red Widow: TV Review
Radha Mitchell and Goran Visnjic star in ABC's new drama about a suburban mother of three who gets pulled into the drug business.
Is it too late for ABC to bring back Last Resort? Maybe if viewers knew back in the fall what they know now -- so many of the broadcast network shows are bad -- they wouldn't have been so quick to turn their backs on a show about, say, a nuclear submarine commanded by Andre Braugher (!) that gets orders to nuke Pakistan, questions the orders, gets fired on by U.S. ships and then goes rogue to figure out what the hell is going on up on the surface and in Washington.
Hell yes you'd take that show right now as a midseason replacement. Granted, ABC gears most of its shows toward women and prefers female leads, but the network could really use a boost in male viewers and -- let's not cover this up any longer than need be -- viewers period. It's not likely to get many with Red Widow, a show that feels as inauthentic and misguided as any show about Russian mobsters in Marin County written by woman who made the Twilight movies could be.
And yes, that's pretty inauthentic and misguided.
For starters, odds are there are zero import-export families selling pot and living on the luxurious waterfront shores of Marin County. Tech executives, bankers, old money -- sure. The pot dynasties are much further north or, if you knock down the tonnage a lot, maybe out amongst the hippies and cows a little further west.
But never mind that. Red Widow, created and written by Melissa Rosenberg (The Twilight Saga, Dexter) and based on the Dutch series Penoza, is further proof that something is in the water that drama development departments from at all the broadcast networks are drinking. Do they share the same service? Or is this maybe a BPA thing with their plastic water bottles? Fresh off the heels of CBS -- the one network that knows how to make pretty good dramas -- dropping the disappointing Golden Boy on the schedule, here comes ABC with a series that seems designed only to turn a housewife into a badass mobster because forces outside of her control forced her into it.
Never mind that our heroine, Marta Walraven (Radha Mitchell) can't be too surprised by her predicament (though she is -- constantly). For starters, she was born into a Bratva family: Russian mobsters. Her dad, Andrei Petrov (Rade Serbedzija) is a high-ranking boss; her brother, Irwin Petrov (Wil Traval), works for her husband, Evan (Anson Mount), in the import-export business, and anytime anyone gets close to the family -- like the guy who is going to marry Marta's sister -- they start freaking out about the Bratva part of it. So, yeah, you're soaking in it, honey. Don't act so surprised.
We are led to believe that Marta has either been fooling herself about why they live in such an awesome house or she's looking the other way while husband Evan ships pot in and out of the port of Oakland. How this is supposed to make her an endearing heroine once things go sideways is not exactly explained. Can she be that delusional and then have viewers believe she's awesome once reality makes her step up? Hmmm.
But reality does slap her into action. See, mob brother Petrov is a climber, and he decides to steal some cocaine being shipped in by "international crime boss" Nicholae Schiller (Goran Visnjic), who is so dangerous that even Marta's father doesn't mess with him. The fallout is quick -- as ABC promos may have shown you -- when Evan is gunned down in their Marin County driveway, no doubt putting a slight and temporary dent in the area's robust housing market. (Mount is already in AMC's Hell on Wheels, so that's probably why his death wasn't kept a surprise; plus the title refers to a widow, so there's that.) The FBI plays a part in Red Widow as well. If the show stays on the air -- no guarantee in this flop-filled market -- there could be some fruit to mine in the character of FBI Agent James Ramos (Clifton Collins Jr.). Since Marta told Evan, when he was alive, that she wanted no part of that kind of life, Ramos believes he can work Marta to get to Schiller. As a twist, Ramos tells her that Evan had approached the FBI about the witness-protection service for the family. And he was going to hand over a thumb drive of the incriminating stuff (because everybody uses thumb drives for their most important digital files). Marta finds the drives and -- hey now -- the content shows that Evan was going to rat out her entire family, except her and their three kids, then flee.
Given that she's been raised by mobsters, this idea annoys Marta. So, with the cocaine inexplicably missing, Marta decides that all she wants is to keep her kids safe and lead a normal life and hatches a plan to go directly to Schiller and tell him this. (Now that's just bad parenting on father Andrei's part.) Anyway, Schiller says it's not about the money, it's about trust or something, and he wants her to stay in the business so that he can keep running his junk through Oakland. (Now, if he only knew how badly Oakland is run as a city, he'd know that there aren't enough cops there to respond to anything short of a murder -- in progress -- so he wouldn't really need her help to keep himself clean. But then, there wouldn't be a show, either.)
As Marta cuts back on her denials, we will eventually see that she embraces who she really is. And that's not a soccer mom. Is there a series in this mom-to-mobster (mombster?) notion? Sure there is. But not a believable one. That hasn't stopped ABC in the past, however, and maybe its female-dominated audience will see themselves in Mitchell's portrayal as a widowed mother of three just trying to make it in the world.
But, given the continuing lack of hits on the broadcast network side, the odds are better that viewers will see Red Widow as a formula series trying desperately not to be a formula series. In the process, it's not very exciting. Or compelling. However, and this might seem like faint praise, there's been an exorbitant amount of shows this season worse than Red Widow, so who knows? Besides, for a series that uses San Francisco, Oakland and Bay Area exterior shots, they did a fine job of avoiding all the too-familiar visual cliches and bathe the Bay Area in a beautiful light. So that's a start.