From Damages creators Daniel Zelman and brothers Todd and Glenn Kessler, Bloodline stars Kyle Chandler as an upright Florida Keys lawman and golden child of a wealthy island clan. It’s the job of Chandler’s character to keep everyone in his family happy and to keep drama free from their seemingly docile paradise; it’s the job of his older brother, played by Ben Mendelsohn, to f*ck everything up.
Bloodline is available now on Netflix for a lengthy 13-episode binge session (remember to stretch, shut-ins), but before you get started, do read to find out if the critics think that this could be either the next great series from a “network” on a winning streak or a loud failure.
The creators have discouraged comparing Bloodline with Damages, but that’s a tall request. “We’re not bad people,” says John in a weary voice-over, “but we did a bad thing.” By the end of the pilot, which is beautifully directed by Johan Renck, the audience sees what bad thing the Rayburns did through a series of teasing flashbacks. (Hint: There are corpses involved.) All that’s missing is the motive, which Bloodline will reveal as it unfurls its tandem narrative with each episode building to a tantalizing cliffhanger. Bloodline’s structure makes comparisons to Damages impossible to resist. The differences lie in Bloodline’s swampy milieu and more literal familial themes, a combination that evokes John Updike trying his hand at pulp fiction during a beach vacation.
This Netflix series isn’t a sensitive portrait of the richness of family ties. “Bloodline” is a sneaky, dissembling film noir account of a sneaky, dissembling family. The Rayburns lie to one another. The show’s creators lie to viewers — or at least veil the truth. The story of a prodigal son’s return is enticingly sheathed in layers of duplicity, private demons and mistrust — almost as if Pat Conroy had collaborated on a screenplay with James M. Cain.
The biggest weakness of Bloodline is that the characters are types, straight down the line: the hardass dad, the soft-hearted mom, the peacemaker, the black sheep. And the scripts don’t do much to round them out. Where many premiere episodes suffer “pilotitis,” struggling to cram exposition into an hour, this one so repeatedly hammers home the same character traits and dynamics that it feels like it could have been edited to 30 minutes.
Bloodline really seems like another one of our high-end, big-deal shows. But we all have secrets, as the show reminds us over and over. And Bloodline‘s secret is that it’s just not that good.
There’s not a lackluster performance among the superb cast members of “Bloodline”; Chandler and Cardellini, especially, are in top form. Nevertheless, it’s Mendelsohn, as Danny, who makes the best of a script that at times seems overly opaque. The writing and direction here have given Danny all the power, therefore it’s not very long before a viewer is also afraid of what Danny might do, mostly because we’re given so little else to go on. A flash-forward scene seems to give away too much too soon, which has the effect of making scenes in later episodes seem like backfill.
I’ve seen the first episode of Bloodline, and I absolutely agree with the A.V. Club regarding the comparison between Damages and Bloodline. I also agree with the Washington Post when it comes to the brilliant cast and the flash-forward scene, which will make your eyes get bigger and your jaw drop a bit. I look forward to seeing how the rest of the show informs that moment despite the somewhat mixed (74 percent on Metacritic) reception. This is definitely a show that demands closer examination, so if the critics didn’t put you off, dive in.