Bloodline Season 1 available March 20 on Netflix.
Netflix’s new drama Bloodline has such a great cast and such impressive production values, it’s easy to give it a pass for being so dramatically inert. Created by the Damages team of Todd A. Kessler, Daniel Zelman and Glenn Kessler, Bloodline features a similar structure, starting with vague unease and flashing forward to the apparent violent death of a major character, with the bulk of the action moving slowly toward that inevitable disaster. The three episodes of Bloodline available for review move slowly indeed, and very little of the main narrative is particularly exciting. The story might pick up as the season goes on (and binge-watchers won’t have to wait long to find out), but if Damages is any indication, it may also build to a disappointing anticlimax.
But how about that cast, huh? Friday Night Lights’ Kyle Chandler is a mixture of brooding and upstanding as John Rayburn, one of four heirs to a hotel dynasty in the Florida Keys. John’s seemingly stable family unravels (eventually) thanks to the return of his black-sheep brother Danny (Ben Mendelsohn, Animal Kingdom), whose presence agitates sister Meg (Linda Cardellini), youngest brother Kevin (Broadway actor Norbert Leo Butz), father Robert (Sam Shepard) and mother Sally (Sissy Spacek) in different ways. All of the main cast members are strong, with Chandler, Mendelsohn, Cardellini and Butz creating a realistic dynamic among siblings with very different personalities but a long shared history.
The show’s directors also make great use of the Florida Keys setting, with the heat and humidity radiating off the screen (the visual style is the only indication of the fun pulp potential of the material, which is generally taken way too seriously). But from a plot standpoint, Bloodline is completely flat, using its shifting timelines as a trick to make mundane developments seem more ominous than they really are. In the second episode, the show skips over an apparently pivotal scene, so that the characters can spend the rest of the episode arguing about what really happened. At the end, we return to the scene, to discover that … things happened exactly as the one character present claimed. All of that fancy misdirection, and in the end it amounts to nothing.