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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Family explores what makes a monster

Illustration for article titled The Family explores what makes a monster
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I haven’t seen The Imposter yet, the movie that apparently has close ties to new ABC series The Family. So so far the series I’m finding The Family most beholden to is Broadchurch (at least, its far-superior first season), which also involved the impact of a lost child on a small community. Where they differ is that Broadchurch was definitely about a child murder, while the viewing jury is still out on The Family: Is Adam really the same kid the Warrens lost long ago, or is he some kind of imposter, and if so, to what end? Which makes it, even for all its awkward stumbles, a compelling watch. Who is this kid? Why does he want all the frosting? If he’s not a Warren, then how did he set up his dungeon imprisonment exactly like his previous home?

The Family takes a risky and mostly successful turn by pairing Adam, our recently returned child, with his neighbor Hank Asher, the man who was falsely accused of murdering him, so that both of these lost souls return to the same street at nearly the same time. It’s to the vast credit of the underrated Andrew McCarthy that he is able to make a man with child porn on his laptop remotely sympathetic at all, but that he does. Like Todd Field’s Little Children, The Family delves into this horrific topic to ask the bigger questions, like how could be a God when there are people born with this horrible compulsion? And wouldn’t anyone born that way wish they were anything else? (Jackie Earle Haley’s character in that movie goes to extreme lengths to transform himself from the monster he is.) This episode, we witness how absolutely closed-off Hank has been from any sort of affection when we see his joy at being attacked by the puppies in the puppy cage. Again, his position, lying on his back and looking up, is tied to Adam’s, as he also lies on his back and looks up in the place of his former imprisonment. Hank‘s also in a cage (and has to be coaxed to get in there), but is gleeful. Adam almost seems to take comfort in a place that’s distressingly familiar. The parallelism is provided by the episode’s gifted director, McCarthy himself.

As series that last for a dozen episodes or so per season, The Family and Broadchurch share the same challenge: How to reveal enough to keep the viewers interested, but not so much that they tip their hand completely. Both of these shows, interestingly, cast doubt on the father in the third episode. But the hookup between John and Nina the cop was hardly a shocker; all she has to do to win him over is acknowledge how much he’s missing his son. And the framing of Hank, in the family’s own fervent desperation at the thought that Adam was being held captive by the man across the street, makes a twisted kind of sense from their side.

But the key in the dungeon? And the microchipping? Both seem to come out of the extreme left field. The latter, at least, is a line drive hurled at us in the middle of the most awkward TV interview ever, as we get to witness firsthand what the family’s fake political life has been like. Danny’s complete falsehood is the most outlandish of all: “It’s like he never left!” Joan Allen is a fascinating lead for this series, as she‘s simultaneously formidable and duplicitous (we do not blame her for failing to land the “It’ll give you wrinkles… in your soul” line, because no actor on earth could pull that off). The disappearance of the DNA test, and the exuberance for the microchip system, appear to point to a behind-the-scenes conspiracy that will make the mayor millions—but can that be her ultimate agenda here? Power, money: She’s likely on her way to becoming governor, isn’t that enough? A giant, corporation-led conspiracy would definitely lessen my appreciation of this series. Because the intimate personal moments are what sell it so far.

Like Claire’s relationship with Adam, even though he is so obviously not the same boy who left them (whether he’s not the actual same person—psychologically, he has changed completely from the sweet boy playing with ships in bottles). Is his peering at Willa again proof that he’s not her actual brother? Like John, who wrestles with his accent almost as much as he fights with his role as grieving father, since he seems estranged from nearly everyone in his home. Like Danny’s downright heroic efforts to stay sober enough to piece together what’s happening in the family.

Adam’s captor, like Broadchurch’s ultimate culprit, offers the scariest scenario of all. The family is aware of the “monster” living across the street in Hank Asher, called out for some park transgression years ago, now so reviled that he can’t even adopt a puppy. The family members also seem to know each other enough to be extremely suspicious of each another, especially the obviously troubled Willa. But the completely duplicitous two-sided person? That’s what completely freaks me out. I probably mentioned over on the Broadchurch pages my love for books like The Pilot’s Wife or Lifetime movies where men have entire separate families on different side of the country, while all of their family members were completely clueless. It’s like pockmarked guy’s poor pregnant wife: He’s so dutiful, she has no reason to expect he’s the most evil person in the world. Not knowing who you’re sleeping next to: That’s the terrifying part. Adam’s solitary closet seems downright cozy in comparison.


The intrigue in The Family heightens as the family members slowly begin go unfurl various facts and secrets about themselves: How the bottle got into Hank’s underwear drawer, who called 911 that night, what Claire’s true motives might be. In a lesser production, this all could be conveyed as soap-opera schlocky, but the performers here are on such a high level (especially Allen and McCarthy)—as well as the show’s settings, with its idyllic coastlines and creepy forests hiding absolute evil (again, Broadchurch-like)—raise it about the sensationalistic show it could have been. As it is, it’s all I can do not to devour the few screeners I have; if this was an all-in-one binge-watch, like on Netflix, I’d already know the true story behind Adam’s disappearance.

Stray observations

  • But it isn’t, so we will be offering weekly reviews for the duration. I am also reviewing Once Upon A Time live the same night, so unless I get more screeners, look for these reviews to go up late, or first thing on Mondays, but I swear, I’ll do them as quickly as I can. I also want to know all of your theories behind Adam and the family. All of them.
  • Rupert Graves’ American accent sounds like a few steps removed, like he started in England and then moved to Finland for a while before coming to Maine. I like that actor a lot, but it’s so distracting.
  • Willa’s line that kids don’t just get lost, “People lose them” can also be heard in The Deep End Of The Ocean, which has a similar plotline about a missing child.
  • I wish The Family had a little more faith in its viewership. We didn’t need to see Danny piece together 11 or 12 steps (with flashbacks, yet!) to figure out that Bridey was a reporter: one or two would have done it. Actually, just finding her press pass should have clinched it.