If gritty crime dramas with hunky men and mommy issues are your thing, there’s a good chance you’re going to go crazy for Animal Kingdom. Loosely adapted from the 2010 Australian film of the same name — though more closely resembling a TV version of Point Break than anything else — TNT’s Animal Kingdom is steeped in California noir goodness. There’s coke, neon lights, sunny beaches, weed, robberies, violence, and Ellen Barkin. What more could you ask for?
The premiere certainly gets right down to business, with paramedics showing up at an apartment and responding to a woman dying from a heroin overdose while her son sits on the couch with a nonchalant look on his face. It’s obvious he’s been here before, though this time is different. The boy is Josh, a.k.a. “J,” and this time his mom, Julia, doesn’t recover. After she dies, J ends up calling his grandmother (Ellen Barkin), known affectionately as Smurf, for a place to stay.
Smurf comes to pick up her grandson, and smuggles away some drugs while she’s at it. As J is about to leave, he’s confronted by his mom’s dealer, who’s asking for money he’s owed. J doesn’t tell him his Mom died, but he doesn’t pay him either. It’s a small moment, but one that leads to a bigger turning point later in the episode.
When J is brought back to his grandmother’s place, we get a glimpse at the life she and her sons are living. There’s a pool, nice cars, plenty of TVs, and money lying around the house. It seems like they’re living the dream, especially compared to the relative squalor J was used to, but it’s clear that everything’s not exactly on the up-and-up. Still, J’s uncles set him up in a room, bring him a TV, and give him some money to buy new shoes.
As it turns out, J’s extended family are a bunch of criminals, mostly running robbery jobs. Smurf’s in charge and her boys do the grunt work. Smurf wants to bring J into the fold for the next operation, which is set to go down in a few days, but her boys aren’t so sure. They don’t know a thing about J and aren’t sure if they can trust him.
Still, the uncles are trying to make J feel at home, in their own twisted, criminally inclined way. They take him surfing, where they intentionally piss off other surfers before getting J to pull a gun and show that he’s manly enough, that he can hold his own with the big boys. J is clearly reluctant, but what choice does he have?
Back at home, J discovers the room he’s staying in isn’t exactly his. It belonged to Pope (Shawn Hatosy), another one of Smurf’s sons, who was sent to prison for three years for robbing a bank. He’s back home now and not entirely excited to see J in his room. The feeling seems mutual. J is wary of the man and so is Smurf, who’s fairly reserved for someone whose boy just got out of prison.
When J isn’t spending time being slightly mystified and terrified of his uncles, he’s hanging out with his girlfriend, Nicky. After some foreplay that J isn’t into (ya know, because of the whole dead-mom thing), they start talking about his mom’s death and where he’s living. As the episode progresses, it’s hinted that Nicky’s about to get roped into this criminal lifestyle alongside J, if she’s not careful.
NEXT: New, stolen…same difference