Radha Mitchell in Red Widow (Source: ABC)
Radha Mitchell in Red Widow (Source: ABC)

Red Widow: Sundays at 10p.m. Eastern on ABC

After Zero Hour ended up becoming a dud, ABC went back to the drama well serving up a new show in Red Widow to fill out its’ Sunday night block with an hour of bluffs, semi-bluffs, and flat out lies (but surprisingly little action) in its’ new mob show.

Red Widow follows one woman’s life as she becomes tangled with a life of organized crime. When Marta Walraven (Radha Mitchell) finds her husband dead, she also learns of the exact degree of his illicit dealings and is forced to carry on the work of a local drug kingpin to keep her family safe while she pays off the debt that her dead husband carried (after her brother got caught stealing large amounts of drugs from a rival gang) in order to keep her family safe and secure.

Normally I take issues with particularly contrived plots, but here the conceit is so ridiculous (soccer mom whose aiming for normalcy becomes drug runner for the most vicious drug lord in San Francisco while keeping her three kids afloat) that it requires a large number of fail safes to keep the plot from taking its’ logical course. In fact, the pilot is entirely about taking “the logical course”, only for impediments stopping all of the logical answers of (in order): Evan trying to rectify Irwin’s terrible decision, Marta going to the FBI, Marta trying to return the stolen drugs, and going to her mob boss father to try and use gangster diplomacy to solve the problem.

Unfortunately, all of this legwork seems fairly tedious, especially in a crammed pilot that also tries to weave in a subplot about Boris taking a gun into school, an overzealous FBI agent, James Ramos (Clifton Collins Jr.), Natalie questioning the nature of the families business (her and Boris are assumed not to know at the start of the pilot) and a full-blown murder mystery revolving around Evan’s death. This is a particular shame as once the show stops focusing so heavily on exposition and gets to actually moving its wheels, it’s become instantly more enjoyable, as shown in scenes where Marta has to try to bribe Bob, a port supervisor after their original mark had decided to double his price before getting beaten down by Marta.

The acting in this series is generally pretty solid, with Radha Mitchell playing a pretty respectable gravely serious soccer mom, and I found Goran Visjnic’s Nicolae Schiller to be a simultaneously affable and terrifying villain (who doubles as a great evaluator of talent, apparently). Lee Tergesen (best known for being Tobias Beecher on Oz) draws the hardest straw, playing Mike, Evan’s semi-competent best friend who has the misfortune of being portrayed as a not only a bumbling fool but also as Marta’s teacher in the in’s and outs of “the business”.

The characters are particularly well drawn, including the surprisingly likable Evan (an affable guy who subverts just about every Mafia trope known to man). Similarly, you get the impression that Ramos will lie, cheat, steal, and possibly kill to get his conviction on both the Petrov family and Schiller’s syndicate. Unfortunately, Marta’s kids feel like they exist solely to be plot motivation and border on annoying during the screen time they receive (I don’t know that I would have shoehorned Boris’ and Natalie’s subplots this early in order to allow more time to the main plot line).

The Final Verdict: In a lot of ways, I felt like reviewing Red Widow now is almost counterproductive, as the first couple of episodes seem to have a much heavier focus on exposition than on driving a plot forward. Unfortunately, this creates a glacial pace that borders on tedious during the course of it’s first few episodes. It’s the sort of show that if it ever picks up a little bit of speed could be extremely fun to watch, as Marta’s interactions with Schiller and Agent Ramos create an interesting tension as she tries to bounce off of both of them to help save her family. If Red Widow can live up to its’ name, it will be the perfect addition to ABC’s Sunday night block.