'Bloodline': New Netflix Series Is Creepy-Good Family Drama

Ken Tucker
·Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
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Bloodline is a twisty mood piece, a family saga with a murder literally floating around the edges of the drama. The latest Netflix series has one of the most impressive casts in any form of television — streaming, cable, or network.

Bloodline is from Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler, and Daniel Zelman, the creators of the Glenn Close American horror story that was Damages. This new series features most prominently Kyle Chandler as the designated “good son” in a large Florida family headed up by Sam Shepard and Sissy Spacek as the parents. The latter play Robert and Sally Rayburn, who run a resort hotel; Chandler is John Rayburn, the sheriff in the Florida Keys town in which they live. John’s siblings are played by Linda Cardellini (Freaks and Geeks, Mad Men), Tony-winning actor Norbert Leo Butz, and Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn. Oh, and Chloe Sevigny is around, too — see what I mean about an impressive cast?

Mendelsohn’s Danny is portrayed initially as the black sheep of the family, rootless and irresponsible, an aimless man who arouses suspicion, pity, and long-buried pain in various family members. Danny is so toxic to the Rayburn dynamic, John tries to keep him away from the big family party that begins the series. Resentment can turn to anger and worse in this show.

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In a way, the set-up of Bloodline could have come from a play written by Sam Shepard — he’s expert at twisty family relationships in stage works such as Buried Child and True West. And at first I wondered whether the producers might need Shepard’s playwright aid as well as his acting, since Bloodline borrows so heavily from Damages’s fractured-narrative structure. A crime is shown early on, then revealed as a flash-forward, so we’re going to spend a lot of time watching what leads up to it. I thought this Damages model was going to seem repetitive or annoying, but after watching two more episodes, these misgivings faded away — I was caught up in the Rayburn clan’s knotty problems.

If anything, Bloodline as it proceeds is reminiscent less of Damages than of one of John D. MacDonald’s Florida thriller novels from the 1950s, one of the many good, emotionally complex ones not featuring private eye Travis McGee. And since fewer and fewer people know who the hell MacDonald is (a crime in itself), the Bloodline guys have this territory pretty much to themselves.

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Shepard and Spacek work well together, immediately establishing the intricacies of a long marriage through glances and body language. Chandler plays off the comforting Coach Eric Taylor image he brings to any post-Friday Night Lights role, and makes it work very well for him, revealing a roiling darkness in John that marks him as very different from Coach Taylor. Early on, Mendelsohn is the stand-out performer in Bloodline, his Danny a tortured man whose inner life is only slowly revealed, and Butz, as the short-tempered brother Kevin, is equally good. 

So Bloodline is well worth your time. The question is, do you have enough of it? With all the good TV around right now, how many people are going to binge-watch Bloodline this weekend? Well, that’s something out of the Bloodline producers’ control. They’ve done their job; now it’s up to us to appreciate it.

Bloodline is streaming now on Netflix.