3 Major New Shows

Radha Mitchell stars in ABC's family-melodrama/organized-crime thriller "Red Widow." The high-concept big-budget drama, from a 2010 Dutch drama, is likable, may improve, but is missing something.
Radha Mitchell stars in ABC's family-melodrama/organized-crime thriller "Red Widow." The high-concept big-budget drama, from a 2010 Dutch drama, is likable, may improve, but is missing something. (SERGEI BACHLAKOV)
Posted: March 03, 2013

Sometimes, you really want, desperately want, to like a TV show you know is not very good. It's irrational, but you root for the show, its stars, its writers; you suspend your critical faculties the best you can and cheer it on as you would a Little Leaguer who's got heart, but no game.

That's the experience - exasperating, a little heartbreaking - of sitting through ABC's Red Widow, a family-melodrama/organized-crime thriller starring the always-capable Australian actor Radha Mitchell, premiering Sunday with a two-episode installment.

Red Widow is one of three major new shows premiering Sunday. It'll go up against two epic mini-series on the History Channel, The Bible and Vikings.

A high-concept, big-budget thriller, Red Widow was adapted from a 2010 Dutch drama by Twilight screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg.

Mitchell stars as affluent Seattle housewife Marta Walraven, living the American dream with hippie husband Evan (Anson Mount) and their children, teens Natalie (Erin Moriarty) and Gabriel (Sterling Beaumon) and grade schooler Boris (Jakob Salvati).

Their dolce vita, however, is built on lies, on crimes. On drugs. Evan is a big player in the West Coast marijuana trade, who uses his shipping business to import massive amounts of herb. But he's a nice guy. Even James Ramos (Clifton Collins Jr.), the FBI agent who has been tracking his movements for years, likes him.

Marta isn't exactly Snow White either: She knows all about Evan's business, and while she disapproves, she knows she lives the good life because of it. Perhaps criminality is in her DNA, as an unsavory guy later tells her: After all, she's daughter to midlevel Russian mobster Andrei Petrov (played by the great Croatian star Rade Šerbedžija).

Disaster comes, violently, definitively, when one of Evan's partners, Marta's hotheaded brother Irwin Petrova (Wil Traval), steals a multimillion-dollar consignment of coke from soft-spoken, suave, international crime baron Nicholae Schiller (  Goran Visnjic).

Night comes. Day breaks. Evan walks out on his driveway and is shot dead. Marta, in debt for the stolen drugs, now must work for Schiller as his new smuggler! And we're off to the races.

There are some really terrific scenes in which Evan's other partner, Steven Tomlin (Lee Tergesen), schools Marta in the details of drug-running. Yet, for all its exciting twists, Red Widow recycles too many gangster-movie cliches. (Including an Old World family wedding a la The Godfather.)

It's not without promise - later episodes may yet sculpt it into a good drama. It's genuinely likable and, at times, quite fun.

But something is missing. Call it soul. It's just not there, and its absence makes the story feel hollow.

Two historical epics

In the popular imagination, the Vikings are early Europe's frat boys. Not too concerned with book learnin', just mead and mayhem and maidens.

The History Channel is banking on young male gamers to embrace its first scripted series, the handsomely shot, $40 million epic Vikings, from Tudors creator Michael Hirst.

Set in eighth-century Scandinavia, the nine-episode series stars Travis Fimmel as Ragnar Lothbrok and the revelatory Katheryn Winnick as his wife, Lagertha. Accomplished warriors both, they aren't happy under the thumb of their manipulative sociopath of a chieftain, Earl Haraldson (a gleefully evil Gabriel Byrne).

Ragnar angers the earl when he and his brother Rollo (Clive Standen) build a new type of ship and sail where Vikings have never dared before: west, to a land called England, with its cities, castles, books, and Christianity.

Hirst cleverly weaves a mystical element into the plot, which pays off with each episode. And he throws in plenty of battle scenes to please bloodthirsty fans. Vikings can't compete with HBO's Game of Thrones or Rome, but it's a winning adventure story in its own right.

History misses the mark entirely with the forgettable Cecil B. DeMille retread The Bible, a five-part mini-series cocreated by reality-TV mogul Mark Burnett. Each two-hour episode dramatizes a pair of famous biblical tales from Noah's flood to Jesus' crucifixion.

There's no character work here, no interesting reinterpretations of a classic text, no inspired acting. Just cardboard characters surrounded by CGI frippery. Give it a miss.

Contact Tirdad Derakhshani at 215-854-2736 or tirdad@phillynews.com.

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