Red Widow comes to ABC in March 2013. Based on the Dutch series Penoza, the series is written by Melissa Rosenberg of Dexter fame, and executive produced by both Rosenberg and Howard Klein (The Office, Parks & Recreation).
Radha Mitchell stars as Marta Walraven, daughter of a semi-retired Russian mafioso and wife to Evan (Anson Mount) a San Francisco fisherman and reluctant small-time marijuana exporter. The mother of three children, Marta largely shuns her gangster heritage for the sake of her family’s safety. However when Marta’s idiot brother Irwin (Wil Traval) steals 75 kilos of cocaine from Schiller (Goran Visnjic of ER fame), a dangerous local gangster whose very name strikes Keyser Söze-esque fear into the hearts of the most hardened criminal, the repercussions are swift and brutal. Evan is gunned down in his driveway in what appears to be a reprisal killing, and Marta finds herself suddenly alone and fearful for her children’s lives.
As the FBI investigates Evan and Marta’s Russian Mob connections they soon uncover surprises from Evan’s past, and Marta finds herself negotiating a treacherous path in her quest for answers. Who really killed Evan? Was it Schiller or could it have been Irwin, or Evan’s business partner Mike?
When the cocaine goes missing, Marta attempts to buy off Evan’s debt but Schiller is quick to recognize Marta’s business potential where port contacts and customs officials are concerned and by the time the credits roll, Marta has agreed to help Schiller import a new consignment of drugs in return for her life.
Despite solid performances and a tight and pacy pilot episode, some reservations remain about how much a ‘serious adult drama’ Red Widow will prove to be over the coming months – a doubt which isn’t eased by the casting of handsome ER vet Goran Visnjic as Schiller. There are obvious inklings of chemistry between Marta and her husband’s killer which could potentially ruin the credibility of both characters if pursued to its natural TV land conclusion.
Visnjic’s Schiller is additionally smooth, smart and coiffed and wouldn’t look out of place on USA’s Suits. Would the persona of a chilling and ruthless Keyser Söze style villain be better served by a craggy, older character actor? The answer may lie in Visnjic’s portrayal and the direction the scriptwriters ultimately want to take his and Marta’s characters.
In many ways Red Widow is reminiscent of another ambitious but now canceled ABC drama, Missing, staring Ashely Judd as a protective mother thrust back into a world she had hoped to leave behind but is more than capable of negotiating. However, instead of spies, Red Widow has gangsters and far less exotic locations.
And unlike ABC’s also recently axed Last Resort, it’s quite easy to see where this show is headed in terms of story, with likely future episodes setting Marta at odds with her mobster family and Evan’s shady business partners as she searches for answers and attempts to appease the ruthless Schiller.
What Red Widow does well is to present a snapshot of ordinary lives torn apart by greed and the struggle for power. There’s also something irresistible to be found in a character who is forced to tap into deeper reserves of ingenuity and tenacity in the face of insurmountable odds. The tone, performances and setting are all perfectly pitched. If the writing continues to serve up believable and relatable story-lines Red Widow may prove a winner in its Sunday night time slot.
Red Widow premieres Sunday, March 3, 9:00-11:00 p.m., ET (with a regular time slot premiere of Sunday, March 10, 10:00-11:00 p.m.) and stars Radha Mitchell as Marta Walraven, Goran Visnjic as Nicholae Schiller, Clifton Collins, Jr. as FBI Agent James Ramos, Sterling Beaumon as Gabriel Walraven, Erin Moriarty as Natalie Walraven, Jakob Salvati as Boris Walraven, Wil Traval as Irwin Petrov, Jaime Ray Newman as Kat Castillo, Rade Serbedzija as Andrei Petrov, Natalija Nouglich as Elena Petrov, Suleka Mathew as Dina Tomlin, Lee Tergesen as Mike Tomlin, and Luke Goss as Luther.