Review: Scoundrels 1×1

The original but with the edges taken off


In the US: Sundays, 9/8c, ABC

It’s official. The UK’s drama output has sunk to an all-time low. You know how I know? Because not only has US TV stopped plundering us for formats, it’s now started plundering New Zealand TV for idea.

Outrageous Fortune is one of NZ’s most popular shows, a slightly Shameless affair about a criminal family trying to go straight. Now ABC in the US has decided to remake it as Scoundrels – since clearly the cancellation of The Riches wasn’t warning enough.

It’s put some fair old talent into it, too: Virginia Madsen (Dune, Sideways et al), David James Elliot (JAG), Leven Rambin (The Sarah Connor Chronicles), Carlos Bernard (24), Patrick John Flueger (Brothers) and Jessica Collins (Tru Calling). So why does it fall so flat? Oh yes, because it’s mainstream summer TV and edgy is just not what we’re looking for.

Here’s a trailer for Scoundrels followed by a trailer for Outrageous Fortune: see if you can spot the difference.

Can a family of small-time criminals go legit? Scoundrels tells the story of the Wests, who are forced to change their lifestyle after the man of the house gets sent to the big house. Cheryl, loving mother and devoted wife, will do everything she can to keep her family together and on the straight and narrow.

Scoundrels stars Virginia Madsen as Cheryl West; David James Elliott as Wolfgang “Wolf” West; Patrick Flueger as Logan West/Calvin “Cal” West; Leven Rambin as Heather West; Vanessa Marano as Hope West and Carlos Bernard as Sergeant Mack.

Scoundrels is produced by ABC Studios and is based on a New Zealand series entitled Outrageous Fortune. Lyn Greene & Richard Levine (Nip/Tuck) and Francie Calfo serve as executive producers. John Barnett, whose company, South Pacific Pictures, produces the New Zealand series, is also an executive producer. Co-executive producers are Michael Larkin, Michael Goldstein, Bruce Cervi and John Lansing.

Is it any good?
It’s blah. It’s there, it fills the screen, people do stuff on that screen, but that’s about it.

The trouble is it’s all very polished. The family is full of pretty people. Very pretty people. Do you buy them as criminal scumbags – or even former criminal scumbags – for so much as a second? No, of course you don’t.

So while you have all the actors putting in decent enough to good performances, they’re just not the characters as presented. The only exception to that is Patrick John Flueger who gives a blinding turn as twin brothers Cal and Logan. Even knowing they’re the same actor, it’s almost impossible to spot the similarities.

Compounded with that, there’s no sense of danger, no edge. These aren’t so much lovable rogues, as simply lovable. Carlos Bernard’s cop is simply there to glower a bit and be sarcastic, rather than be actually threatening. And everyone gets up to slightly scampish things, rather than do anything too bad.

Now, fair enough. The show’s decided to go with comedy over drama/dramedy. But it really needs to be funny if it’s going to pull that off. At the moment, it simply falls between two stools, with clumsy dialogue and clumsy situations where laughs or drama should be.

It’s a shame, with such a good cast. Maybe it’ll get better. But at the moment, it’s so bland, the show might as well be called Porridge. Except obviously that would imply it was funny.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

    View all posts