In the ABC bloodbath on Thursday, I wasn’t that surprised, or bummed, by the news that The Family had been cancelled. I knew the ratings hadn’t been great, and reviews like my own varied from appreciating the show’s crafty twists and turns, to being slammed against various frustrating roadblocks overall (an imposter in your house tells you he killed your brother: How about some followup questions? How did that go down exactly?).
After this finale, though, I’m honestly disappointed that we won’t be getting any followup to The Family. While we all predicted/hoped that the season would end with the Adam reveal, it still was awfully satisfying when it finally happened.
Shondaland alum and show creator Jenna Bans spent an awful lot of time talking to the press after various episodes, which I think did the show a disservice. There was one interview in particular, after the Ben reveal, when she is asked to confirm that Adam is dead, and she says, “Yes, he is dead. In the writers’ room, we knew for so long Adam was dead and that it wasn’t Adam [who came back].” Sure, the spin is that “the Adam they knew” is dead, or the innocence of Adam is dead, but come on. Revealing anything at all would blow the big reveal, but this is misinformation that might have actually steered people off the show. If Adam was dead, what was the point of continuing to watch?
Besides those crazy plot twists, some startling sincere performances grounded the show in some semblance of reality. Joan Allen rose far and away above her material. She could even pull off a scene in the bunker with a fictional Adam, also lending credence to the “Adam is dead” theory. What could have been theatrical histrionics in the hands of a lesser actor became genuinely moving thanks to the empathy that Allen is able to draw. Her rage over Adam walking away with Doug at the event is completely understandable but so painful: “You were so smart, such a bright boy; how in one moment could you be so stupid?”
Another tough scene to witness: I think if the show had cast anyone but Andrew McCarthy as Hank, it would have skidded way too far into villainous territory. Hank’s brush with his worst impulses were absolutely chilling this episode, and his description to John about his compulsion made his horrible plight depressingly relatable. There is no reason on earth for John to go over to Hank’s house to kick back with a beer, so the conversation was a clunky setup to explain why Hank feels the way he does, and why he would risk coming so close to hurting a child. For a character we had somehow come to sympathize with, I think his season-two trajectory would have been really hard to witness. (Also, John ends the season as the only Warren who doesn’t know Ben is Adam. He was one ineffectual patriarch.)
When we look back on what made The Family, The Family, I think what the show had to say about familial relationships may resonate even more than unpredictable plot twists. Hank and his mom. Willa and Danny drinking together, so of course their final goodbye is in a bar. Claire and Ben becoming family, even with a bizarre history between them and the fact that they’re not actually related. My favorite scene this episode, other than the end, may have been Willa and Claire hunting down Ben in the rain, looking even more pitiful than usual. Of course his home is with them, despite all that has happened: Where else would it be? For Ben, a foster kid, Claire making pancakes in the kitchen, surrounded by the rest of the family members, is as close to heaven as he’ll likely ever get.
I don’t know what ABC’s rationale for axing everything in sight was. I knew that if a veteran show like Nashville was going down, The Family didn’t have a chance. So I have to give the show some respect for going for broke anyway, even with the knowledge that it might not be coming back. The reveal of Adam Warren will instead stand as one of the most memorable one-season wonder endings, leaving us with mere speculation about what the second season might have offered.
- If commentary on The View becomes your ticket to cracking the case, maybe you just have to accept that you’re the worst cop in the world.
- Of all the unanswered questions that will now nag me about The Family’s possible season two, the relationship between Jane and Adam may bug me the most. Where was he hiding out for those three months? Why didn’t he escape as well?
- In second place: Willa apparently killed Bridey, but how? She’s a nutjob, but it’s still hard to picture her capable of murdering someone. And wouldn’t her old editor then immediately know that some giant conspiracy was at play?
- Also disturbingly satisfying: Adam shooting Doug in the groin with a shotgun.
- Claire got elected and is still just talking about child abduction. How is she going to deal with, you know, the schools, and the budget, and the environment? Other Maine issues? That said, really glad that chipping plot didn’t come back.
- Favorite exchange of the entire series: “What are you doing?” “Hitching a ride.” “Do you know how dangerous that is?” “…Yeah.”
- Thank you so much for reading these reviews! I jumped on this show because I was having a lot of fun watching it and thought it would be enjoyable to discuss. As happens so often with these one-season efforts, I think The Family really was a wannabe: Tons of good ideas and performances that somehow failed to cobble together. Still made for a fascinating watch, though: Thanks for joining me.