Alibi V.25 No.24 • June 16-22, 2016 

Idiot Box

Crime Pays

“Animal Kingdom” on TNT

The 2010 Australian film Animal Kingdom featured an incredible selection of actors, including Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Guy Pearce and Jacki Weaver—who got Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for her role. Weaver played Janine “Smurf” Cody, the mother of a suburban crime family who controlled her skeevy sons like a PTA Mafioso. The rough-and-tumble drama has now been adapted for TNT by legendary TV producer John Wells (“ER,” “Third Watch,” “The West Wing,” “Southland,” “Shameless.”)

While the show has got some big shoes to fill, it starts out wisely by casting some great actors. Ellen Barkin (Diner, Tender Merices, Switch, Ocean’s Thirteen) takes over for Weaver in the role of Smurf, the salty-sweet monster at the heart of this grimly mesmerizing drama. When his mother overdoses, teenage J (Finn Cole from “Peaky Blinders”) ends up crashing his estranged grandmother Smurf’s seaside home in Southern California. Smurf is a manipulative matriarch who showers her boys (including Scott Speedman as the levelheaded Baz, Shawn Hatosy as the crazy intense Pope, Ben Robson as the drug-abusing Craig and Jake Weary as the secretive Deran) with food, gifts and some occasionally creepy (possibly incestuous) attention.

Turns out she’s also making them scavenge, steal and do basically whatever needs to be done to maintain their consequence-free lifestyle of drinking, doing drugs and having sex. It’s basically “Sons of Anarchy” but with surfboards instead of motorcycles. That said, “Animal Kingdom” doesn’t deliver anything that a dozen other envelope-pushing cable crime shows are trying to deliver right now—from HBO’s “Vinyl” to AMC’s “Feed the Beast.” Where it goes and how much it develops depends, of course, on the producers and the writers. So far, though, there’s reason to hold out hope.

The cast is the primary attraction here. Cole gets the bulk of the storyline. But Speedman (the Underworld series) does good work as the most moral of this immoral clan. Hatosy (“Southland,” “Reckless”) projects a wealth of dangerously buried anger as the just-sprung-from-jail eldest son. But “Animal Kingdom” rightfully belongs to Barkin, the cagey lioness seducing, manipulating and abusing her frequently shirtless family of man-children into doing her nasty bidding.

Though there’s plenty of action (and, as mentioned earlier, lots and lots of bare abs), the show burrows deep into its morally ambiguous universe. No one here is patently bad. Sure, grandma’s a crime lord, but she’s got rules. Plus, she throws really rockin’ parties. The only question is how will young J turn out after spending the summer with his felonious uncles and commanding granny? It should be fun finding out.

“Animal Kingdom” airs Tuesdays at 7pm on TNT.