'The Family' Creator Wants Viewers to Have Doubts, Promises (Some) Quick Resolution

The drama, from Shondaland disciple Jenna Bans, centers on a family whose son reappears 10 years after going missing.
Courtesy of ABC

Producers of ABC's buzzy drama The Family want viewers to have doubts about its central mystery, which centers on a young boy who mysteriously reappears 10 years after going missing.

From Shondaland disciple Jenna Bans (Scandal, Off the Map), The Family revolves around a politician's (Joan Allen) son who returns from the dead and the mailman (Andrew McCarthy) accused of his slaying. The drama was one of last pilot season's hottest scripts. Zach Gilford, Alison Pill, Rupert Graves and Liam James round out the family, while Margot Bingham plays the FBI agent on the case. The series intercuts between present day and when the family's young son disappeared 10 years ago.

"I would like you to have doubts, but then go, 'There was a DNA test ... but maybe there was something wrong," Bans told reporters Saturday during her time in front of the press at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour.

"We're playing that 'Is he or isn't he,'" Bans said of the show's central mystery, noting that her show is about much more than that. By the time we get to episodes four and five, there's 10 more plot threads than there were in the pilot. The stories spiderweb out through the first season. In the finale, maybe 50 percent are resolved and 50 percent go forward. … The question you ask yourself at the end of the pilot might not be the main question you care about by the finale."

To hear McCarthy tell it, every character has ghosts in their respective closets. "Everyone has a secret, everyone has an agenda and everyone has a version of the truth — and it's about where they all convene," said McCarthy, who originally was approached about playing a different role in the series but wanted to take on the complicated character of the sexual pariah convicted for the young boy's murder.

As for the origin story of the series, Bans revealed the concept came to her when she and her husband, shortly after moving into a new house, found out that they had a registered sex offender living in their neighborhood. She wanted to move immediately and joked that her husband said financially that wasn't in the cards and she instead should write a "hit TV show" so they could. "That's where it came from ... and the hook came later," she said.

Bans also revealed that Rhimes — with whom she's worked on Off the Map and Scandal — read the script for The Family and liked it. Bans noted she implemented a lot of lessons she learned from Rhimes and Scandal on The Family. "She's a big proponent of pushing story forward. We'll be in the writers' room on Scandal and say, 'We'll do it in episode 10,' and she'll say, 'Do it in two!' That's something I've taken to heart and implemented on this show. … It's writing without fear of thinking about what comes next."

The Family debuts Thursday, March 3 at 9 p.m. with a special preview before moving to its regular slot on Sunday, March 6 at 9 p.m. Check out the trailer, below.