Netflix’s “Bloodline” touts a first rate ensemble: Kyle Chandler, Linda Cardellini, Norbert Leo Butz (best known for his Broadway work) and Ben Mendelsohn as the adult children of Sam Shepard and Sissy Spacek’s Robert and Sally Rayburn.
The team that created “Damages” — Glenn Kessler, Todd Kessler and Daniel Zelman — returns with a dysfunctional family drama that unfolds methodically, drawing you in and making you want more at each episode’s conclusion.
The Rayburns own a successful resort in the Florida Keys, the main setting for this family drama. The story centers on eldest son Danny Rayburn (Mendelsohn), a ne’er do well who returns home for a family reunion and celebration for their parents, who are being honored. Danny’s return provokes a range of reactions from his siblings: John (Chandler) is local law enforcement and given Danny’s shady friends, he wonders about Danny’s true intentions. Meg (Cardellini) is an attorney who is happy to see her big brother and wants to give him the benefit of the doubt. Kevin (Butz) admits he likes his big brother, but doesn’t trust him and knows he won’t stick around, even when Danny says otherwise. Kevin is also a quick to anger hothead whose marriage is on shaky ground. The kids are concerned for their parents’ feelings when it comes to Danny as he’s disappointed them in the past and they want to prevent that from happening again.
At the end of the first episode, something terrible happens to Danny and successive episodes show us the story leading up to the tragedy that will affect the entire family. There’s a ripple effect to Danny’s return that immediately reverberates through the family and provokes vehement reactions from all of them. Matters are complicated when their father Robert suffers a stroke while in Danny’s company, which makes his siblings even more suspect of him. Tensions quickly build and when Danny decides to move home for good and asks for a job at the resort, the other siblings are wary but they know Danny’s presence will comfort their mother.
“Bloodline” slowly unpacks the story and in doing so, draws you in and compels your attention, making you want to see and know more about the loving yet dysfunctional Rayburns. The emotional strains they share are familiar and universal as the siblings all have to deal with the fact that oldest son Danny will never be the man they wish he was. John is the de facto leader among the siblings, with his quiet, take-charge disposition – no surprise given his job in local law enforcement. Meg and Kevin have their own personal secrets; those seeds are also planted in the premiere episodes.
After watching the first three episodes, I like how the Kesslers and Zelman created a story that’s far easier to follow than “Damages'”constant time jumps. This technique alone made me want to watch more. They’re also very artful at illustrating how the most difficult relationships are often with the people nearest and dearest to us, which makes resolutions and answers even harder to find.
While Chandler’s series return was the initial draw for me, it’s Mendelsohn’s quietly powerful performance as Danny Rayburn that engaged me and kept me wondering exactly what Danny’s done to alienate his family. Watch Cardellini as Meg; She gives a beautifully shaded performance as an attorney handling a business deal that could affect her family’s business and her love life, which she’s ambivalent about. Butz is also strong as Kevin, the loyal and protective son who’s not shy about expressing any of his opinions at any time.
If dramas about families rife with secrets and pain appeal to you, you’ll love “Bloodline.” The show doles out morsels of information slowly, like a trail of bread crumbs, which makes for a satisfying viewing experience and feeds your curiosity while making you question other aspects even more. If it were a novel, it would be a page turner. Onscreen, all you have to do is click to the next episode. Count me in.
“Bloodline” premieres March 20 on Netflix.