The Family Recap: The Worst Family in America

Joan Allen as Claire, Liam James as Adam, Rupert Graves as John. Photo: KC Bailey/ABC
The Family

The Family

Of Puppies and Monsters Season 1 Episode 3
Editor's Rating 2 stars

“Of Puppies and Monsters” continues The Family’s knack of unfurling its mysteries at a pace that would make sloths impatient. This is understandable in one sense: If you give everything away too soon, you run out of plot. But the stinginess also requires a level of commitment that this show hasn’t earned.

It would certainly help if huge chunks of the dialogue weren’t so lame. “Of Puppies and Monsters” starts with a voice-over from Papa John, who says, “Have you ever done something you can’t undo? You can’t forgive. You can’t forget. So you tear yourself apart.” Gee, thanks for that brilliant insight.

John’s dark secret does not refer to his horribly fake black hair in all the flashbacks. It refers to the fact that he helped frame Hank Asher for Adam’s killing in those same flashbacks. Understandably, he feels pretty cut up about sending an innocent man to jail and condemning his son to ten years of captivity, and maybe also for his inexplicable affair with Nina the cop. (Seriously, Rupert Graves and Margot Bingham have the opposite of chemistry. Which is … physics? I don’t know science.) Nina figures out that John framed Hank, and is suitably disgusted. Poor Nina. She is terrible at her job and everyone keeps asking her if she has kids, which she doesn’t, okay, so stop asking. She’s so alienated from everyone, and her Journal of a Hard-Bitten Wounded Cop is probably like 75 volumes deep.

Sadly for Nina, the Adam case appears exceedingly difficult to crack. The weird dude who maybe kidnapped Adam is one of those villains who’s always fifteen steps ahead of the cops. He destroys the truck Nina and her crew were looking for, and he’s got a pregnant wife and a seemingly happy life and a new car. I am not particularly interested in this man, or in seeing whether he gets captured. The Family appears so determined to keep juggling its dozen or so balls that it’s forgotten to make the central mystery interesting. And, in part, that’s because the boy at its heart isn’t a real human being. Adam has been given no distinctive traits, no underlying qualities that would make us care about him beyond the show’s repeated insistence that we have to care about him. Why? Because, well, that’s the show. He does nothing except stare goggle-eyed into space, hold mysterious keys up in front of the camera, and act creepy.

Of course, you have to have some sympathy for the kid. He’s been plopped into one of the worst families in America. Danny, for instance, spends the episode doing heinously stupid things. He pops over to Bridey Cruz’s (!) house for a quickie and comes across the large pile of Warren family material that happens to be lying around. (For a crack investigative journalist/lesbian lifestyle blogger/walking feminist nightmare/brilliantly devious swine, Bridey Cruz (!) sure does leave a lot of incriminating stuff sitting on her kitchen table.) Then Danny decides that, even though this woman he’s been sleeping with has repeatedly betrayed him, he’s going to stick around and help her with her investigation. That will definitely go well.

Then there’s Willa, who, lest we forget, is religious. She’s so religious that she keeps her cross necklace on even when she takes her clothes off. When she’s fully clothed, she’s busy pushing her fellow family members to bury their pathological hatred of one another and come together for a moving interview about how they’ve formed a united front behind Claire’s gubernatorial run. The twisted dynamic between Willa and Claire is actually the most intriguing in the series, which probably has something to do with the fact that Alison Pill and Joan Allen are giving the best performances by far. Their moments together briefly elevate the show into something worth watching. Those moments don’t last, though.

Claire isn’t so hot on the interview, but she agrees to do it, as do the other members of our dour squad. For whatever reason, it’s both live and also apparently showing on every single network — two things that would never happen in a million years, but whatever. Even before the interview begins, we know something’s going to go awry because there was a scene between Claire and Willa, in which Claire was drinking liquor and essentially announcing that she planned to torpedo the interview. She promptly does, going off on a rant about how sex offenders need to be implanted with microchips that track them, trashing Hank Asher once more in the process. (Just as the interview is being aired, he is trying to buy a puppy from a woman. Bad timing, man. Suspected child molesters are not allowed puppies.)

Because this is a TV show, it turns out that Claire actually planned that whole meltdown, and she may have floated that whole chip idea because she has some shady connection to a company that makes those kinds of chips, which is the same company that tested Adam’s DNA. The devilish beauty of Allen’s sly smile as Claire gloats over her ruse aside, is literally everyone on this show going to be involved in some conspiracy? I would say that the popularity of Claire’s extremely authoritarian tracker proposal feels improbable, except that such extreme things are real and happening now.

The episode ends shortly after this Claire revelation. By the time “Of Puppies and Monsters” finishes, we have made essentially no progress. We still have no idea what’s happening with these people. It is my great hope that Claire’s campaign heats up, and fast, just so something — anything! — will actually occur on this show.

Random Thoughts:

  • I can’t decide which scene is dumber: the one where the FBI agent working with Nina asks her how long she’s been sleeping with John, and then, by way of explanation, says, “I’m FBI. We’re perceptive”; or the one where the consultant from the RNC basically advises Claire to show no emotion about Adam’s return in her interview lest she lose the party’s endorsement. I’d love to see the planet where the public reacts well to a parent acting like an automaton after her kid comes back from the dead.
  • We can add “spying on his naked sister” to Adam’s list of creepy behaviors.
  • I love the way Adam holds up that key for the exact amount of time it takes a camera to focus in on it.
  • Full disclosure: I’m a freelancer for Fusion, which is partially owned by ABC.

The Family Recap: The Worst Family in America