ABC’s The Family — Should You Be Watching?

Written by Megan LaBruna



10 years ago the Warrens lived a nightmare no parent ever wants to experience. Their youngest son, Adam, was kidnapped and thought to be dead. A decade later Adam’s sudden return opens up questions surrounding his disappearance, and forces the Warren family to cope with past secrets of their own.

The Family premiered two weeks ago on ABC. The question arises — should you be watching every Sunday night?

The pilot episode jumps between present day and 10 years prior, to when the Adam Warren (Liam James), the youngest son of Mayor Claire Warren (Joan Allen) went missing. The overall premise reminds me of the book The Deep End of the Ocean, in which a family is torn apart when their son goes missing after his older brother was supposed to have been watching him only to be found years later and reunited with his family. I have a feeling this story, however, is going to have a very different outcome as to what went on during those missing years.

THE FAMILY - ABC's "The Family" stars Zach Gilford as Danny, Alison Pill as Willa, Rupert Graves as John, Liam James as Adam and Joan Allen as Claire. (ABC/Bob D'Amico)
THE FAMILY – ABC’s “The Family” stars Zach Gilford as Danny, Alison Pill as Willa, Rupert Graves as John, Liam James as Adam and Joan Allen as Claire. (ABC/Bob D’Amico)

A large part of the reason I wanted to watch The Family, aside from being a sucker for psychological thrillers, was because the older brother, Danny, is played by Zach Gilford and I loved him in Friday Night Lights. It’s clear that the guilt of losing his brother 10 years prior has had major negative effects on his present day behavior. Danny is the family alcoholic; however, despite his affinity for a nice glass of bourbon before noon, he’s the only family member picking up on the fact that Adam isn’t the same person they lost all those years ago. Obviously, someone who has been kidnapped and tortured for a decade is not going to be the same, but what Danny is referring to is the little personality traits that make a person who they are. He points out that his brother used to hate eggs, the smell of them used to make him sick and now he can’t get enough of them at breakfast. Also, Adam has completely forgotten how to make a ship in a bottle, which was a major pastime of his before he was taken.

I’m not a psychologist, but I would think that if a person was that passionate about something they would still remember how the ship gets into the bottle even after their world has been turned upside down. This leads me to think that this kid claiming to be Adam really and truly might not be him. It also helps that a former fling of Danny’s is now a reporter and confirms that the doctor who claims to have run a DNA test to verify that Adam is in fact Adam does not actually exist. This revelation opens up a whole other box of questions, like is the police department in on some cover up, was the detective assigned to the case, Nina Meyer (Margot Bingham) aware of this and why would someone want to pose as a missing person?

It’s apparent within the first half of the pilot that Adam’s father (Rubert Graves), at least at one point, was having an affair with Det. Meyer, despite the Mayor’s campaign being based around family values. I’m not sure if this was because how young and green the cop was at the time of the case, or if it was a coping mechanism for the father because he and his wife processed their grief differently, or if it’s merely in there to add love triangles to the overall story. Regardless, by the end of the pilot that flame has reignited.

There is a pattern emerging in that everyone in this family has some deep secrets, which seem to be a requirement to be involved in politics. We as an audience have yet to find out the Mayor’s secrets, but between the alcoholic son and the cheating husband, the only family member who seems to have it all together is the middle child, Willa (Alison Pill). At first glance she looks like the picture of a well adjusted human being, family oriented, smart, God-fearing and hard working. However, as the first episode unfolds, she is clearly keeping a major secret to herself. We don’t quite know exactly what that secret is, but I have a hunch whatever she did had a major affect on the Warrens’ neighbor, Hank (Andrew McCarthy) being convicted of killing Adam 10 years ago when he went missing. It seems the more that comes up about the case, the less evidence they truly had to put this man away for a murder. Then again, the real Adam may actually be dead, so maybe Hank isn’t as innocent as we’re lead to believe.

As far as the casting goes, I liked the flow of the first episode. It’s believable the Warren family is at a glance the all-American family that they’re portrayed as, though clearly up close they have all their own individual issues. The emotions of losing a son and then reuniting with him years later are well displayed by Joan Allen. She has to fight the instinct to run in and hug this child she had accepted as dead for the last decade, because Adam is essentially like a feral animal, having been caged up for over half of his life and experiencing nightmarish occurrences with his captor. I was also impressed with Liam James’ portrayal of Adam Warren, because I really can’t read him. There’s something off about him, which would be expected after everything he has allegedly been through, but like Danny, I’m inclined to think that the reason he is off might not be because he is Adam, but because he is actually disturbed and pretending to be a dead kid come back to life for reasons unknown to the audience at this time. All I do know for sure is that I am hooked, not necessarily because it’s such an amazing premiere, but because I need to know whether or not this person is in fact Adam Warren.

The show is scheduled to air on Sundays, however, running its pilot episode right after Grey’s Anatomy and during the network’s popularized “TGIT” night, was the right move on ABC’s part, because it surely hooked more viewers than it would have accrued if shown after Once Upon A Time. The feel of the show definitely fits in much more with the Shonda Rhimes line-up. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, however, because the creator of The Family, Jenna Bans, is a former ShondaLand writer. After the first episode, it is clear Ms. Bans has her viewers in for a season of puzzling revelations and psychological twists and turns.


The Family airs Sundays at 9PM on ABC