The best thing about ABC’s Red Widow is that it feels a lot like someone tried to turn a very dark cable series into a very lighthearted cable series. The show is based on a Dutch TV show from 2010, but the broad strokes are very Walter White (or Nancy Botwin, for that matter.) Radha Mitchell plays Marta Walraven, an average upper-upper-middle class housewife in Marin County. She’s married to a swell guy — Anson Mount, fully rocking his Hell on Wheels beard — who also happens to be heavily involved in organized crime. When he bites the dust, Marta has to take over for him, paying off her husband’s debt to an uber-criminal while dodging the hard-boiled detective who is hot on her trail.
There’s a lot to play with in Red Widow. The show is produced by Melissa Rosenberg, best known for her work on the Twilight franchise. Like the craziest movies in that franchise — New Moon and Breaking Dawn Part 2 — the premiere of Widow had a totally gonzo mixture of tones that was helplessly cheesy, but also undeniable kinetic. Goran Visnjic and Clifton Collins Jr. are both having a great time chewing the scenery as, respectively, Evil-Accented Gordon Gekko and Even-Throatier Dirty Harry.
But to me, the premiere felt a bit bland, as if the producers couldn’t quite figure out just what tone they were going for — dark crime thriller? over-the-top tragedy? grieving-family melodrama? — and wound up with something that felt like a vanilla mix of everything. I’d like to recommend the show as a cheesy delight, but the two-hour premiere also featured a scene where Marta’s young son brought a gun to school. That would be a daring plotline even without the recent gun-related tragedies, but the show mostly used it as an empty shock. And star Radha Mitchell has played awesome, tough heroines before. (See: Pitch Black, a movie she completely steals from vintage-era Vin Diesel.) But as Marta, she suggests reserves of steely confidence without really getting much opportunity to show that off.
I got to review next week’s episode of the show, and it’s a significant improvement, with a narrow day-in-the-life focus on a drug smuggling operation gone wrong. That episode suggests that the show’s creators are at least settling on a tone. (Think Burn Notice meets The Killing.)
Unfortunately, I’m not sure the show is going to get much of a chance to evolve. It’s running on ABC this season for a shortened eight-episode season, an order which seems to imply that the network doesn’t have much faith in it. Its premiere ratings weren’t great, either. Still, if there is any justice, a TV executive will watch this show and immediately greenlight a show where Collins and Visnjic play a couple of hotshot lawyers with a dark secret and a bottomless supply of hair product. Hey, I’d watch that.
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