Poor Marta Walraven, she’s a harried wife and mother. Her youngest son just got expelled for bringing a handgun to school. Her parents are acrimoniously divorced. Her dad is an infamous Russian mobster. And her criminally entangled husband just got murdered. Her one advantage is the fact that she’s played by sinew-powered actress Radha Mitchell (Silent Hill, Pitch Black, High Art).
Marta is the focus of ABC’s “Red Widow,” an Americanized remake of a Dutch crime series called “Penoza.” Mitchell plays our anti-heroine, a tough-minded housewife married to ponytail-wearing Evan (the studly if short-lived Anson Mount from AMC’s “Hell on Wheels”). He’s a low-ranking, Bay area dope-smuggler. Troubled by her family’s past and the possibility that her kids are picking up some very bad habits, Marta demands Evan get out of the crime biz. Unfortunately one of her hubby’s “associates” (Marta’s scumbag brother, as it happens) has just rashly ripped off 75 kilos of cocaine from some very nasty people. Evan tries to cover it up, but it’s too late. He ends up pumped full of bullets on his front lawn (not much of a spoiler there, the title kind of telegraphs it).
Now, according to the complicated laws of the criminal underworld, Marta is obliged to repay the $1.5 million worth of missing drugs. She could just run away or turn evidence over to the FBI. Instead she decides to go all “Sopranos”/“Breaking Bad”/“Weeds” and become a drug runner for handsome-but-evil Nicholae Schiller (Goran Visnjic from “ER”). Once she’s on the inside, you see, she can milk both cops and criminals for info to find out who murdered her husband.
The cast is better than the usual TV drama. Clifton Collins Jr. (Traffic), Rade Serbedzija (Snatch) and Luke Goss (Hellboy II: The Golden Army) are some of the other familiar faces. The show is written and produced by Melissa Rosenberg—who gave us all the Twilight movies as well as Showtime’s “Dexter.” That’s a weird resume, but “Red Widow” steers more toward the “Dexter” side of things, which is good. Rosenberg has clearly made some friends in the film biz. “Red Widow” is a slick piece of work. The San Francisco setting is nicely exploited, making the whole thing feel more movie-like and less set-bound. The domestic side of things, at least in the plot-heavy pilot, is severely underwritten. I don’t believe the kids have more than one line apiece. Hopefully, in future, the show will find a balance between its “be a single mother,” “run an organized crime ring” and “hunt down my husband’s killer” storylines. So far it’s not quite basic cable-worthy. But it is more serious and well-made than your average broadcast network drama. If you like your housewives tough and gun-toting, “Red Widow” is fine, escapist action—like a Lifetime movie directed by Martin Scorsese.