Bloodline

3 out of 5

Created by: Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler, and Daniel Zelman

My goodness, what a thoroughly unpleasant show.  The extent to which Bloodline goes to burn through any viewerly goodwill is…  well, ‘impressive’ is likely too favorable of a word for tragedy porn like this series, but it becomes clear almost from the first episode that we’re intended to tune in not because we care about person X, Y, or A through Z, but because the show triggers some kind of competitive motivator: it’s an endurance test to see how much trash you’re willing to have heaped on you before calling it quits. And past the first bucketloads of such muck – season 1 – thinking there might be a temporary reprieve of fresh air, the show jumps right back in to it for season 2, with even stankier  filth because, hey, you’re still here, so you must like thr abuse, eh?  Ratings must’ve proven otherwise; in season 3 you cam feel the struggle to make reprehensible characters sympathetic to some extent, but dang, it’s a long climb out of hell, and the exhaustion of that effort permeates things as the show stumbles about, shedding subplots, picking them back up, fumbling them, crookedly smiling, hoping you’ll leave saying, “at least they tried.”

Try they did.

In Bloodline, we start with a death – brother Danny Rayburn, black sheep of the well-to-do beachfront inn-owning, Florida dwelling Rayburn clan – and a voiceover from Danny Rayburn, police detective, letting us know that this (whatever, we assume, the show intends to be about) was a nefarious affair, full of the kind of keep-watching intrigue that manipulative TV trades in.

Flash back to Danny’s return to the fam’s inn some bit ago, maybe seeking cash, but also there to plain fuck things up, and pluck at the family’s dark secrets the show keeps hinting at in occasional cutaway flashbacks to something clearly traumatic for all involved.  So for 13 episodes we watch the Rayburn’s bicker, and drink, and swear, we sheepful audience sitting up to attention when details align with what we’re first shown of Danny’s impending death.  While the series never quite manages to Breaking Bad us – i.e. get us to root for a bad guy after initially sympathizing with them, because none of the characters are an iota of endearing – the actors and script manage to bring the family to life, for better or worse, all the bruises and scrapes we know from our own gettogethers, reminding us all how much we can hate our family.

As I said: unnnpleasant.

Once the “mystery” of Danny’s death has its puzzle pieces solved, season two follows the aftermath of hilariously bad, MacGuffiny decisions the family makes as a result.  We gain extra cast to twirl mustaches and tie damsels in distress to train tracks, and Rayburns toss more alcohol and Fuck Yous on the fire.  Wide-eyed, we’re wondering where the hell this is going.  So is the show!  Proven by the amusingly wayward final season, which tries its derndest to apply some meaning to the mess.

I knew if I stopped watching Bloodline, I wouldn’t return to it.  It’s counting on bingeability; it even quits structuring episodes with proper conclusions halfway through, when the makers suspect you’re just letting Netflix queue it up automatically.  And while one of its defining elements, post the first season, is the way it ambles about looking for a focus, one of the reasons it – sigh – works as bingeable is because it stays resolutely dug in with the Rayburns; we never leave their side, giving the actors a lot of room to grow into their roles and ne’er giving the audience a chance to get off the whirligig of calamity.