THE FAMILY Review: “Pilot”

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Airtime: Sundays at 9PM on ABC
Episode: Season 1, Episode 1 (S01E01)

TB-TV-Grade-B+

Tweetable Takeaway: #TheFamily starts strong in an episode full of twists and surprises.


In ABC’s new drama , created by former Scandal co-executive producer Jenna Bans, a missing boy, presumed dead with the alleged murderer behind bars, returns home after ten years gone. But is he who he says he is? That’s the central mystery, set up excellently in the pilot, with just enough doubts planted to keep viewers engaged. The pilot opens with Nina Meyer (Margot Bingham) reexamining evidence from Adam’s disappearance. A disheveled boy (Liam James) limps down a highway, walking past a billboard with Mayor Claire Warren welcoming people to Red Pines, Maine.

Ten years earlier, Claire (Joan Allen) campaigns for her first public office, city council. Adam hides underneath a bench, playing with his ship in a bottle. Teenaged Danny hooks up with a girl when Willa, the daughter, frantically tells him that she can’t find Adam. A search party gets underway while a detective interviews the arguing family. Back in present day, Officer Meyer has been promoted to Detective Meyer. The lost boy points to a news article and says that he’s Adam.

Claire has a press conference, extolling family values, when everyone’s light up. The news that Adam has resurfaced has gotten out. Police tell John (Rupert Graves), the father, while he’s at a press conference for his latest book on grieving. Danny (Zach Gilford), now an alcoholic, sees the news on the television in the hotel room. Willa (Alison Pill), Danny, and Claire arrive at the hospital, with Danny immediately questioning whether or not it’s actually Adam. Suspicious. Why wouldn’t he just be happy that his brother is back? Officer Meyer shuts him down by saying they ran a DNA test. It seems awfully fast for the results to come back within hours, but my knowledge of the legal system/DNA testing is limited to Law & Order: SVU, so who knows.

Adam’s back is covered in scars. If it has been ten years since his disappearance, he looks awfully young for someone who’s supposed to be eighteen years old, especially as he sits on the hospital bed watching cartoons. We go back ten years again, as Willa mentions that she saw Adam with Hank (Andrew McCarthy), their neighbor who has been arrested for indecent exposure in the past and therefore is registered as a sex offender. In present day, a judge releases Hank from prison and offers him financial compensation—$30,000 for each year he was imprisoned.

Reporters flock around the Warren’s home as they usher Adam inside. Adam studies the photographs on the mantle. Detective Meyer wants to question Adam right away, but Claire insists that a psychologist be present. John and Detective Meyer exchange some cryptic dialogue and pointed glances. These two obviously have a deep history and it doesn’t seem like it was strictly professional.

Hank arrives home, back to the house across the street from the Warren’s. His mother has passed away. Adam tells Detective Meyer that the man who took him has skin that looks like gravel and holes in his face. He was kept underground and the man came to see him. Hank goes to the mall, but can’t escape the news of the incident playing on the ’s, or the disgusted glances from passersby. Adam claims that the only thing he could see through the door was a red dragon, breathing fire right at him.

Ten years ago, John tries to convince Claire to drop out of politics. Detective Meyer tells them that the judge won’t give them a search warrant for Hank’s house, as there is no evidence, as a young Willa listens in. Willa, now a religious fanatic running her mother’s campaigns, tells her mother to make a statement before she announces that she’s running for governor. Danny watches as Adam scarves down eggs. Apparently, the smell used to make him sick. And the plot thickens.

At the local paper, Bridey (Floriana Lima) asks her editor for the lead on the Warren story. Although she runs a lesbian lifestyle blog and isn’t a hardened reporter, she thinks that she can make Danny talk to her. John runs into Hank at the grocery store. He awkwardly tells him that he’s sorry for what happened to him. Hank doesn’t accept. He angrily tells John that he thought about killing his “beautiful little boy” while he was in prison. Maybe he didn’t kill Adam, but he’s definitely creepy.

Danny asks Adam why he didn’t run away. Adam tells him that he never forgot to lock the door until yesterday. He’s looking at his ship in a bottle and asks Danny how it got in there. Huge red flag. Adam used to be obsessed with the things and would have definitely known the answer to that question. Claire and Emily dismiss his concerns, writing them off as the ramblings of an alcoholic and explaining Adam’s memory lapses as a result of the decade of rape and torture. This was actually my biggest issue with the pilot. Besides this mention and Claire’s insistence on a therapist, everyone seems to ignore the trauma that this boy has been through, pushing for things to go back to normal way too quickly. 

Detective Meyer drives through the woods, mulling Adam’s words over in her head. She notices that from a certain angle, the steam coming off a factory in the city combined with the sunset makes it look like a red dragon, breathing fire.

Ten years previously, Willa sneaks into Hank’s house while he walks his dog, finding Adam’s ship in a bottle in a box. She sneaks out, undetected. Back in the present, Claire tells John that she won’t run for governor. They embrace, but the sweet moment is captured by reporters, who John believes Claire knew were there. They fight, and Claire essentially accuses him of cheating while on his book tour. John angrily storms off.

Bridey masterfully manipulates Danny into thinking she’s a damsel in distress in a bar, and reminds him that she was the one Danny was hooking up with when Adam disappeared. She gives him her number. Claire sleeps by Adam, who wakes up and begins exploring the house. He obsessively studies a home video, repeating the words Adam says in it until he gets the cadence exactly right. This was the moment in the pilot where I decided that this kid definitely isn’t the real Adam, but I’m sure that’s exactly what the show’s wanted me to think. It’s probably a misdirect, but why is he doing this?

Willa goes to church to confess. She claims it has been six days since her last confession, but ten years since her last truthful confession. Wild speculation time: what has she been lying about for ten years? Did she plant the evidence in Hank’s room (my guess)? Is she somehow responsible for his disappearance?

Detective Meyer busts into a cabin in the woods, only to find two teenagers smoking weed, nothing more. We flashback to see her basically bullying Hank into taking a plea deal, showing him the child porn she found on his computer. In present day, she and John hook up. They’ve been having an affair for years. Ugh. This subplot felt the most contrived.

Claire holds a press conference and announces that she is going to run for governor after all. Then, the episode ends with three bombshells. Bridey tells her editor that the doctor who verified Adam’s DNA test doesn’t exist. Meyer reveals that Adam’s prints were never on the ship in the bottle, only Hank’s, as if it were planted. And a man matching the exact description of Adam’s captor buys a newspaper about the case. Ok, The Family. You’ve successfully captured my attention. Can’t wait to see what happens next week.

TB-TV-Grade-B+

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lives for two things: spreading the “Superstore” gospel and themed “Law & Order: SVU” marathons on USA. When she’s not binge-watching her favorite shows, she’s reading any book she can get her hands on.

: @jtrof

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