TV Show Review

TV Review: ANIMAL KINGDOM: Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2: Pilot, We Don’t Hurt People [TNT]

Scott Speedman Ellen Barkin Finn Cole Animal Kingdom Pilot

TNT‘s Animal Kingdom Pilot and We Don’t Hurt People TV Show Review. Animal Kingdom: Season 1, Episodes 1 & 2: Pilot and We don’t Hurt People made up the two-hour series premiere that introduced us to the Cody family in sunny Southern California made up of individuals sharing their own brand of insanity. The unstable bunch is ruled by Smurf (Ellen Barkin) and Barry “Baz” Blackwell (Scott Speedman) as the cooler heads of the family trying to keep the Cody brothers in check. The unexpected arrival of two family members threw the Cody’s into a tailspin of jealousy and power shifts that will affect their long-established success.

The style of Animal Kingdom was visually intense. It was like we were watching scenes play out through a filthy window on a sunny afternoon. Even funny or endearing moments felt dirty. You simply could not get comfortable in any moment because even frolicking in the pool became a blood sport.

Finn Cole (of Peaky Blinders fame) plays teenage Joshua “J” Cody who comes to live with his mother’s estranged family. That decision, however, quickly became a nightmare.  Not that he had a choice. He just watched his mother kill herself slowly. What happens to a child after that?  Finn plays this emotionally disturbed teenager stoically, making him as unpredictable as Pope Cody (Shawn Hatosy). Pope suspects and provokes J constantly, but J’s imperturbable spirit only encouraged Pope. For J Cody, still waters run deep.

“Yes ma’am” “No ma’am” Ok sure” is a large part of J’s meager dialogue. We were introduced to this new family through J’s perspective (sometimes he was just lurking in hallways watching), but the “real” J does not show up until late into the premiere. J seemed like a shadow of a character rather than a human being until we finally saw the surface crack near the end. Boy, did his mask crack wide open.  (Honestly, after an hour and forty-five minutes, I only became invested in this boy’s story in the last fifteen. I  wanted to jump through the screen and hug him for dear life,…but not in the Smurf way.)

Barkin plays Smurf, the matriarch of this messed up family, like a designer-clad Madam with a stable full of studs. She purrs every sentence through her permanently pouted lips and ogled young J’s body like he was lunch. It was too much at times. Almost every family member took a turn being cruel or creepy for no reason. Craig (Ben Robson) the coke-head openly flirted with J’s girlfriend. Deran (Jake Weary) the youngest of the Cody brothers has a big secret and a big chip on his shoulder that rivals Pope’s. Jealous and angry, Deran tried to run over his own nephew (accidentally on purpose of course)?!

Pope was a whole other kind of crazy. Hatosy looks almost unrecognizable in his role as the paranoid schizophrenic uncle Pope that returned home after a prison stint. He was too handsy with J’s girlfriend, and too suspicious by half. Hatosy was clearly channeling a bloodhound-watchdog in every scene. Every time Pope entered a room you wanted to scream and run away. Also, he seemed completely inept as a henchman. Baz gave you ONE JOB Pope. You only had One Job to do!

In fact, all the brothers showed a certain level of ineptitude that begged the question: how exactly did the Cody family become so successful at robberies when they seem to be their own worst enemy? It is a wonder that this sleepy, drugged-out family gets anything done. Though the description boasts that they are a thriving crime family, they sure did muck up what looked like an easy job. Maybe we will learn more about their successes and criminal savvy in the episodes to come. What was shown so far is unimpressive.

There were establishing issues that the original Australian film did not suffer. The brothers’ relation to each other was not always clear in this pilot episode. Maybe blame it on casting, but it was hard to tell which brother was younger or older. Did all the brothers walk out of the womb at once? It was difficult to tell if Baz was a brother, a cousin, a foster child that Smurf raised, or a friend of the family, until a few words were spoken later in the second episode that added a bit of depth to Baz.  I really wanted to see more from Baz’s wife, Catherine (Daniella Alonso), than her general aloofness.

There were some intriguing developments. The writers inserted glimpses into Smurf’s past that indicate a lifetime of illicit activity to explore. Could it be that crime is all Smurf knows? Oh, and Catherine’s infidelity, what will come of that whole mess? It is too early to tell how well this production will expand on the original concept, which was brilliant. With cops breathing down their necks and personal issues abound, there is some meat to chew for the next episodes. What did you think of the premiere?

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About the author


I am ...a lover of all things film ...a published poet with a law degree from Howard University School of Law ...a D.C. native, who frequents local and international film festivals ...a self-professed couch potato who can usually be caught watching anything produced by Joss and Jed Whedon. My favorite TV shows include the Buffy & Angel Series, Sons of Anarchy, Oz, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and The Shield. Still, I am open to everything on TV and Netflix, which is doing big things.

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