Tony Soprano may have cheated on Carmela, operated the dullest strip joint outside of Florida and ordered hits on beloved associates, but there was always something lovable about the ol’ lug.
Viewers will have a harder time finding room in their hearts for Janine “Smurf” Cody, the matriarch of a two-bit crime family in “Animal Kingdom,” TNT’s latest failure to prove it’s more than just a storing house for neatly packaged procedurals.
It’s not that Smurf is particularly vicious. As played by Ellen Barkin, best known for tomboy tomfoolery in “The Big Easy” and “Sea of Love,” this mobster bakes cupcakes, dotes on her four adult sons and takes in her teenage grandchild after his mother dies of a drug overdose.
Oh, she also walks around the house in an open robe, her ample chest on full display.
That casual display of skin, along with a wardrobe of tightfitting shirts, may be justified if the 62-year-old actress were trying to convince Dennis Quaid or Al Pacino to stock up on Viagra, but it’s downright creepy when she’s offering a round-the-clock peep show to her adult children, who themselves seem to be taking fashion advice from Tarzan.
There is no actual incest in the first two episodes, directed by TV journeyman John Wells and inspired by the Oscar-nominated Australian film of the same name. That taboo territory is still ruled by the brother-sister act in “Game of Thrones.”
But June Cleaver would be aghast at Smurf’s rules on motherhood: kisses on her boys’ foreheads that linger a little too long, a graphic chat about the birds and the bees with her new charge and coffee talk with an enraged — and buck naked — son that sounds like Stella trying to tame Stanley in “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
For those who still want to believe that the Codys are just an overly affectionate clan, stick around for the scene in which the oldest son, fresh out of prison, engages in a sexually charged game of “chicken” with Mommie Dearest.
“Hamlet” and “Pericles” are among the time-honored plays that effectively used such forbidden longings as a device in some of Shakespeare’s most powerful work. But “Animal Kingdom” is no great Shakes.
The performances aren’t the problem, although if Barkin is going to play a vamp, she should tap her inner Joan Collins a little deeper. Scott Speedman, who made study breaks extra special 15 years ago in “Felicity,” still looks like he just graduated from charm school and makes the most of the role as the oldest, most practical, shirtless wonder, taken in by Smurf when he was just a lad.
Too bad he’s the leader of the Gang Who Couldn’t Think Straight. The brothers are naturally wary of their nephew — until around the third commercial break. By then he is nearly fully initiated into the club, primarily because the 17-year-old (Finn Cole) can rock some waves and point a gun without urinating in his jeans.
The centerpiece heist of clunky watches is about as dramatically compelling as a boy trying to sneak into his parents’ bedroom to swipe the latest edition of Playboy.
Of course, based on this two-hour premiere, the boys were more likely raised trying to sneak a peek at Ms. Magazine.
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