Juxtapose glitz and glamour with dull and broody and ask people to pick one between the two. Chances are; most, if not all, will automatically pick the former. It is a natural default reaction; the bright ambience of glitz and glamour will always trump the depressing visage of dull and brooding. Translate that to television entertainment, and you will find most viewers gravitating towards glitz and glamourous shows than the seeming dull and broody ones. However, more often than not, the glitz and glamour of the former is merely a distraction from and compensation for its lack of artistry and depth. The dull and broody ones when viewed with the patience of a connoisseur eventually reveal themselves as artistic gems.
Bloodline, a Netflix original show, (much like the First Season of HBO’s True Detective starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson) falls into this latter category of TV shows. There is a film noir-ish feel to the production ambience of Bloodline that is almost like a salute to the black and white movies of Hollywood’s golden era or the pensive and measured detective/investigative undertones of Alfred Hitchcock movies.
Bloodline is essentially about and tells the story of the Rayburn Family and a buried family secret that hangs over their heads like a relentless albatross. The Rayburn Family is akin to royalty in the Florida Keys where it runs an Inn that is a popular tourist destination. The Family consists of a patriarch and matriarch, Robert and Sally Rayburn played by Sam Shepard and Sissy Spacek, and their children, Danny, John, Meg and Kevin played by Ben Mendelsohn, Kyle Chandler, Linda Cardellini and Norbert Leo Butz.
The Rayburns, like most families, have two faces; the public and the private. As veritable royalty in Monroe County in the Florida Keys, the former holds them up as a pillar of the community. But it is the latter, deliberately tucked away from the public that casts a pall over the sunny blue water and white sand beach ambience of the Florida Keys in which the series is set.
Confident in its ability to arrest the viewers’ attention (despite a lack of conventional big name actors in its cast), the series starts out with a foreboding albeit spoiler voice over by Kyle Chandler’s John Rayburn giving out the secret (well, one of many family secrets really) about Danny’s murder. It takes some cojones to start out a whodunit television show with such a revelation and expect to still keep your viewers’ attention till the end of the season(which given the binge-watching style of Netflix releases is a matter of hours or days depending on your couch potato quotient).
Again, as with most families, the Rayburns have a black sheep in the person of prodigal oldest son, Danny, who returns home to no excited welcome during the 45th wedding anniversary of his parents. Even if the opening voice over had not let it out, a first look at Danny would have been a dead giveaway that his return held ominous signs for the Rayburns. Ben Mendelsohn expertly combined a mixture of empathy-eliciting somberness and calculating mischief in portraying Danny that leaves you both rooting for and beefing him for the Rayburn’s seeming coldness toward him on the one hand and for being such an insufferable black sheep on the other hand. One moment, he seemed the repentant prodigal son and the next he was the conniving reprobate committed to a lifetime of causing his family nothing but pain and shame.
By far, my favourite character in Bloodline is second son, John Rayburn memorably portrayed by Kyle Chandler. With Danny abdicating his responsibility as oldest son, John, who clearly is cut from a different cloth, steps in and easily fills the familial role of responsibility reserved for oldest sons. He assumes the responsibility of moral rectitude made even more imperative by his job as a detective in the County Sheriff Office. Kyle Chandler portrays John with a realism that is worth commending. He imbibes and becomes the character in his portrayal and utilizes to great effect the acting tools of facial expressions and body language. You can literally see and feel in him the moral dilemma posed to his character as a detective sworn to protect and serve and as a brother to a delinquent older sibling whose misdeeds need to be hidden to save both him and the family from embarrassing consequences. The weariness is palpable on his face as is the enormous burden on his shoulders.
Another memorable performance is Norbert Leo Butz’s portrayal of youngest son/last child, Kevin Rayburn. Kevin is scattered, disorganised and cowardly and appears to despise Danny the most. Norbert Leo Butz imbibes and realistically evinces these nuances in his portrayal of Kevin. Linda Cardellini accurately portrays Meg’s almost anonymous and nondescript personality as the sole female in a sibling quartet dominated by 3 males with strong and overshadowing personalities.
While watching season one last year, I had expected it to be a one season series. It made sense to have such expectation given that Danny’s murder as revealed in the opening voice over appeared to be the focal point of the storyline. But by the season finale, the storyline conclusion justified continuing the Rayburn family saga in a second season. Fortunately, Season 2 did not in any way dampen the brilliance of the series set by Season 1. It sustained the tempo and justifies the shows renewal for a 3rd season.