‘Animal Kingdom’ Season 1 Review

Animal Kingdom

TNT’s new series Animal Kingdom received its fair amount of marketing play before the freshman drama’s big reveal. The series pilot lived up to the drama’s gritty previews that showcased an orphaned teen who reunites with a dysfunctional family his mother tried so hard to keep him from.

When we first meet Joshua “J” Cody he’s sitting on a couch watching TV while his mom sits next to slumped over, dead from a heroin overdose. The scene is surreal and judging from J’s disturbing lack of emotion, he’s been through the ringer.
With no dad and no-one else to turn to, J is taken in by his estranged grandmother Janine “Smurf” Cody, played by Ellen Barkin, who is excellent in the role of a criminal, master manipulating matriarch similar to the likes of Gemma Teller from ‘Sons of Anarchy’.

She rules the roost when it comes to her three sons, who party all day against the backdrop of Southern California in between plotting their next big heist under her direction. When J first meets his long lost uncles, Craig (Ben Robson), Deran (Jake Weary) and their close friend Baz (played Scott Speedman), the trio sets him up in his own bedroom, carrying a brand new flat screen TV in from no-where, before stuffing a wad of cash in his hand for new kicks. It’s a scene that sends up red flags and makes clear that the Cody’s aren’t your ordinary family.

Uncle Pope comes home days after J’s arrival, ruffling the family’s feathers. Pope is fresh out of prison, played by Southland’s Shawn Hatosy. Minutes after meeting Pope, it’s apparent that Hatosy has a talent for playing a creep. Typically, Hatosy is cast in the role of a do-good-er, but he really excels as an unstable uncle who wants to get back into the family business immediately and sees J as a threat. A scene with his on-screen mother “Smurf”, Ellen Barkin, also makes it clear that there is a highly toxic dynamic between Smurf and her boys that runs deeper than the criminal element.

The premiere sucks you in and invests you in J’s sad story until that a brief moment the show looks like it may be suffering from a major plot hole. Why is J sticking around and not running from his new extended family? But that is quickly addressed in an unpredictable way. Judging by first looks it appears TNT may have struck gold with this Australian inspired adaptation.

My only complaint, watching ‘Animal Kingdom’ on a censored network is like watching ‘Good Will Hunting’ on Clearplay.