Preview: Animal Kingdom 1×1 (US: TNT)

An Australian crime story set in California

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, TNT. Starts June 14
In the UK: Not yet acquired

Sometimes, you watch enough global TV and it starts to become confusing as to what’s copying what. Take Animal Kingdom, TNT’s latest drama, this one featuring Ellen Barkin (Sea of Love, Switch, The Big Easy) as the California grandmother who takes in her teenage grandson (Finn Cole from Peaky Blinders) when his mother (her daughter) fatally overdoses on heroin. Except she’s actually the head of a literal crime family, with her sons (Scott Speedman from The Last Resort, Shawn Hatosy from Southland, Ben Robson and Jake Weary) a highly efficient bunch of robbers with varying degrees of conscience. 

So it immediately it looks a bit to me like New Zealand’s Outrageous Fortune, except not only is Animal Kingdom a lot darker and a lot less humorous, it’s already been remade as Scoundrels

But then, as I watch it, I start to get a completely different vibe. With its highly efficient criminals, tense male-relationships and Heat-style direction, it’s beginning to look a lot like Smith, NBC’s old Heat knock-off with Ray Liotta. That was exec-produced by John Wells (ER), as is Animal Kingdom. There’s even a rather similar scene involving surfers, designed to show off how the family doesn’t care for the rules of society, to one in Smith involving Simon Baker.

So Smith meets Outrageous Fortune? No.

Turns out it’s actually a TV version of a 2010 Australian movie, Animal Kingdom, starring some of the great and the good of Australian acting: Ben Mendelsohn (Bloodline), Joel Edgerton (The Secret Life of UsExodus: Gods and Kings), Guy Pearce (like you need to ask), Jacki Weaver (Secret City), and Sullivan Stapleton (Strike Back, Blindspot):

Just to be even more confusing, that was based on a real-life Melbourne crime family. Turns out the only original ideas are in real-life.

So does Australian real-life crime story Animal Kingdom work when relocated to the Californian coast? It depends. Do you think a crime show should really be about crimes or should it be about fit young men taking their tops off a lot? 

If the latter, Animal Kingdom is your boy.

Animal Kingdom is an adrenaline-charged drama starring Emmy and Tony winner Ellen Barkin (Sea of Love, This Boy’s Life, Oceans 13) as the matriarch of a Southern California family whose excessive lifestyle is fueled by their criminal activities, with Scott Speedman (The Strangers, The Vow) as her second in command. Shawn Hatosy (Southland, Reckless), Ben Robson (Vikings, Dracula: The Dark Prince), Jake Weary (Pretty Little Liars, It Follows) and Finn Cole (Peaky Blinders, An Inspector Calls) also star.

Is it any good?
It’s good, but it’s a bit of a mess.

The show is a look at choices and how a previously good person can take up a life of crime if they fall in with the wrong company – particularly if that company is their family. As the name suggests, it’s also about hierarchy, with the struggle for alpha, beta, gamma and omega status in a pack of animals. Will Finn Cole survive if he sticks to his mild-mannered ways or will he get killed if he takes on his brothers’ ways and tries to ascend the hierarchy?

Which all sounds good and it is frequently is, more thanks to the direction, script and the supporting members of the cast (Cole, Robson, Weary), rather than the bigger names. Unfortunately, Hatosy doesn’t quite convince as the darkest of the brothers, and Speedman and Barkin don’t get anywhere close to where they need to be.

The good elements of the script get lost under this flawed casting, as well as the relocation of the story to California, where it feels more like Point Break: The Series than the dark and gritty tale it’s supposed to be. Will Cole survive… hey! Pool! Beach! Girls in bikinis or less! Woo hoo!

It’s a problem.

It’s also quite hard to take Cole seriously when he makes his quick getaway on a push-bike.

It’s not a total loss, particularly if you like men walking around with little to nothing on, but a little more care with the cast and a better location could have made this a much better show.


  • 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.

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