'Red Widow' Is A Poor Man's 'Breaking Bad'
ABC’s new drama, Red Widow, premiered Sunday night with a disappointing two-hour special. Written by first-time showrunner Melissa Rosenberg (Dexter, Twilight), and influenced by the Dutch show Penoza, Red Widow attempts to emulate the success of AMC’s Breaking Bad by depicting a similar premise. In this case, it is Marta Walraven (Rahda Mitchell), not Walter White (Bryan Cranston), who is forced to descend into the criminal world due to special life circumstances. But unlike Breaking Bad, Red Widow tests our patience with an opening story that made little sense.
The story centered on Marta Walraven, who has family ties with the Russian mob. Her husband, Evan Walraven (Anson Mount), was involved in the transport of illicit drugs through a marina he owned. A recent decision by Marta’s brother, Irwin Petrova (Wil Travel), to steal a shipment of cocaine from a dangerous mobster, Christian Schiller (Goran Visnjic), blew back on Evan and eventually led to his death. The cocaine went missing and Schiller expected payback, leading Marta to work off her husband’s debt as a member of Schiller’s criminal organization.
The premise of Red Widow is intriguing enough, except that it had no reason to be there. Before Evan’s murder, Marta had been pleading for her husband to leave the criminal business to keep their children safe. Evan accommodated her plea by entering into an agreement with the FBI for information on Marta’s criminal family in exchange for their Witness Protection Program. But he was killed before he was able to transfer the flash drive with all the information to the FBI. Of course, when Marta found the flash drive, she deleted the incriminating information since the safety of her criminal family apparently comes before her children…
You are supposed to find sympathy in Marta’s choice because her mob family has been portrayed as good family people, opposed to the criminals they actually are. This is reinforced by Marta’s oldest son Gabriel, who immediately condemned his father, only days removed from his death, when he discovered the contents of the flash drive. The show makes it seem that Marta’s only safe option was to turn to crime to protect her family. Then again, if she had chosen to enter Witness Protection like any normal person, there would be no show.
I may have been able to overlook Marta’s ridiculous choice if she was a compelling character. But Rosenberg spent little time developing Marta’s character in the premiere, and as a result there was nothing there to be interested in. All we know is that Marta was somehow oblivious to anything her husband or extended crime family was doing, and she cares about her children – but I guess not enough to sell out the rest of her family. With a lack of character development in Marta, it was interesting that Red Widow’s premiere spent an inappropriately large amount of time focused on Marta’s walking time bomb of a husband.
Rosenberg’s treatment of Evan highlighted the absurd background of the show. Even as a criminal, Evan was portrayed as a good man. His kids loved him, barring the mysterious tension between him and his son Gabriel. And he had a grasp of what was right and wrong, which led him to make a tough decision that would have hurt his friends around him, but was ultimately made to protect his wife and children. It was baffling, then, that Evan was turned into a perceived villain after his death. Marta instantly believed her brother when he said that Evan was behind the cocaine theft and Mike Tomlin (Lee Tergesen), the third man involved in this situation, did not refute Irwin’s claims. Nothing was more outrageous than the lack of mourning shown by Evan’s son, Gabriel. Gabriel did not give a second's notice when he condemned his dead father after finding out the contents of the flash drive.
It did not help that Red Widow has a host of other characters that also ranged from boring to mediocre from the lack of development in the two hour premiere. Clifton Colin Jr. plays FBI agent James Ramos, who is investigating Marta’s mob family. I am not sure if he is supposed to be a determined and unwavering type like Tommy Lee Jones’s character in The Fugitive, but so far he just comes across as a creepy man masquerading as a federal agent. Luke Goss plays Luther, the bodyguard who Marta’s mob boss father (Rade Sherbedia) sends to protect Marta and her children. Luke’s character has little dialogue, so it is fitting that Luther is the most likeable character on the show now that Evan is dead. Oh, and we know nothing about Marta’s children (Sterling Beaumon, Jakob Salvati, Erin Moriaty) even though they starred in some of the most dramatic and revealing events of the premiere.
Regardless, Red Widow’s two hour premiere did show some promise. If you can get past the flimsy backstory, Marta’s new job working for Schiller has the ability to excite. Schiller’s mysterious and charming character is the best thing about Red Widow so far and it is because Rosenberg has built up his character slowly through dialogue rather than heavy-handed drama. Now that Marta is a cog in his organization, she will hopefully have to make choices that cause her to question her own morality. So far, she has not stooped down to any moral objectivity in her decisions yet, as she relied on telling the truth to convince Bob (Rodney Rowland), the new marina supervisor, to take her bribe. The only way for Red Widow to succeed is to salvage Marta’s character, and Marta’s new relationship with Schiller may be the answer.