Playing It Straight
“Scoundrels” on ABC
Summer isn’t known to be the kindest season to scripted drama. People tend to have better things to do in summer. In winter, they’re a captive audience. But in summer, they’re off having picnics or driving across the country in an RV or watching big summer movies. Undaunted, ABC is trying to compete with basic cable stations, who are now in the business of cranking out new content (largely hour-long dramas) year-round. As a result, ABC is now offering not one but two new scripted series on Sunday nights: the crime dramedy “Scoundrels” and the supernatural soaper “The Gates.”
“Scoundrels” is notable for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a remake of the New Zealand TV series “Outrageous Fortune.” (They have TVs in New Zealand?) Second, it’s shot right here in Albuquerque.
The show chronicles the day-to-day struggles of the West family, a brood of dyed-in-the-wool (though not particularly successful) criminals. When dad (David James Elliot, formerly of “JAG”) is sent off to jail for a surprise five-year stint, mom (Virginia Madsen) makes a blanket proclamation that—from this day forward—the West family is going straight.
The setup for “Scoundrels” reads like “Arrested Development,” only more serious. Or maybe “Weeds” with burglary instead of drugs. Or “The Riches” with not as much intrigue. With two episodes in the bag, the show seems less interested in “big picture” mythology-building (which dramas tend to favor) and more content to milk minor conflicts from each member of the ensemble cast (kinda like a sitcom). For family dynamics, we’ve got one mother hen, one incarcerated dad, two teenage daughters (one sexy, one brainy) and two twentysomething sons (one good, one bad). There are a few ongoing external conflicts (dad’s legal battles, a war of sorts with a local Asian crime family), but it’s the family stories (older sis wants to be a model, younger sis wants to be a filmmaker) that dominate.
Fortunately, the cast is more or less up to the challenge. Madsen is a welcome presence as loudmouthed matriarch Cheryl. Hopefully, given time and some well-developed story lines, her character will evolve beyond Mary-Louise Parker’s sexy-tough “don’t mess with my family” shtick from “Weeds.” Elliot isn’t a spectacular thespian, but he’s obviously having fun as hunky jailbird dad Wolfgang. Patrick John Flueger (“The 4400”) is stretched thin as both clean-cut brother Logan and Brad Pitt wannabe bad boy Cal—but I blame the casting director on that one.
Though it’s shot in Albuquerque and set in Palm Springs, the show features one of the more deft sleight of hand usages of our fair city. A few exterior shots of Palm Springs and a lot of palm trees in people’s yards, and you’d swear this was Southern California. Bottom line: clever setting, a few laughs, some “crime lite” plot lines and the New Mexico bonus—an occasional cameo by local actors. (Hey, Alex! Hey, Andy!)