Monday, March 7, 2016

The (Non-)Problem with ABC's The Family

(Some vague spoilers through episode two of The Family below.)

The second episode of ABC's new drama The Family aired last night, and I'm still finding myself drawn in almost in spite of myself, because this story of what happens when a child thought murdered surfaces ten years later is extremely compelling and also, like pretty much every Shondaland show, feels like it might fall apart at any moment. In some ways, The Family is operating within the tradition of "missing kid comes home" narratives, along with fine young adult novel When Jeff Came Home, popular 1990s YA series The Face on the Milk Carton, and MTV drama Finding Carter. But The Family is doing SO MANY other things at the same time, and that's both its strength and where I fear it will all come undone.

Because this show is trying to do way, way too much - but I can't figure out what I'd want them to drop, because each thread is plenty interesting.
* What actually happened to Adam ten years ago, and in the intervening years. (In some ways, this may be the least interesting aspect, weirdly.)
* How the neighbor falsely convicted actually played into things
* Whether Adam is actually Adam
* How his disappearance affected his parents' marriage, and his father's writing career
* And his siblings - each sibling here (both played by actors I like a lot, Alison Pill and Zach Gilford) is fascinating and could easily be the center of a show
* Especially his sister's religious journey and how that has affected the family
* How his father's affair with the lead detective affected the investigation
* The politics both within the local police department and between the local cops and FBI
* The ACTUAL politics surrounding Adam's mother's career, and the way she has to run for office both in spite of and on the basis of being a mother
* The tug-of-war between local and national media outlets
* The local paper's "lesbian lifestyle blogger" and her relationship with Adam's brother, and also all the journalistic ethical questions that whole thing brings up
* And I'm probably forgetting a bunch of things!
Usually, when a show has bitten off more than it can chew, I can pretty easily say "Ugh, just drop xyz subplot, no one cares." But I care about all The Family's plotlines, and perhaps care least about the supposedly central mystery and more about the threads more obliquely surrounding it. I just don't believe that it can keep all these balls in the air. So I guess I'll let myself get sucked in while trying to keep myself braced for the moment when it all comes crashing down.

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