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Red Widow: The Complete First Season (2013)

ABC Studios
DVD Released: 5/28/2013

All Ratings out of
Show: 1/2
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/31/2013

If I understand the ins-and-outs of a television show correctly, when a new series is created, the creator not only has a script for the pilot, but they often have a "bible" as well, which gives an overview of the series, and usually contains detailed information (often specific down to each episode) about how the first season will progress. For a drama series which will include several characters and diverging storylines, this would be an invaluable tool. And I would think that we've all watched a series where we felt as if a steady hand was behind the wheel, guiding the show towards a specific outcome. However, there are also shows which feel out of control, as if the powers-that-be are grasping at every straw in order to keep the show on the air. That was the sense I got from the eight episodes in the show Red Widow.

Marta Walraven (Radha Mitchell) is married to Evan Walraven (Anson Mount) who runs a charter boat business which is actually a front for drug smuggling. They have three children -- Gabriel (Sterling Beaumon), Natalie (Erin Moriarty), and Boris (Jakob Salvati). Marta comes from a crime family, as her father, Andrei Petrov (Rade Serbedzija), is part of the Russian mafia. Marta's brother Irwin (Will Traval), who works with Evan, decides that he wants to take on the big time, so he steals part of a drug shipment which belongs to crime-lord Nicholae Shciller (Goran Visnjic). Not long after this, Evan is murdered in the family's driveway (I don't feel that this needed spoiler tags, as the word "widow" is in the title). Marta decides that she must set things right, but the drugs have gone missing. Thus, she approaches Schiller seeking his mercy. He grants this, in a way, but making Marta one of his employees. She must now work for this criminal in order to pay back the debt. Meanwhile, FBI agent James Ramos (Clifton Collins Jr.) is watching Marta's every step.

I don't watch that many shows on ABC, but I saw a lot of commercials hyping the premiere of Red Widow. Yes, ABC has been known to push every show like it's the greatest thing ever (and I truly hate when they put "ABC's" in front of the title for every show...that's clearly a Disney thing), but Red Widow was pushed like it was something truly special. This would imply that a lot of planning went into the show in order to make it something great (and thus, worth the hype).

Well, we were all misled, as Red Widow is a mess from the get-go. The promos made it look as if Marta was surprised to learn that her husband was a criminal, but that's not the case...sort of. One minute she acts as if she knew it all along and the next she appears to be shocked. (We do learn that at least two of the kids didn't know.) The fact that Marta's father is a crime-boss should have prepared her for anything, but she seems legitimately surprised by criminal activity in some scenes. (Is it any wonder that the name of the actor who plays Evan doesn't appear on the show?)

The confusion over what Marta may or may not have known is only the tip of the iceberg in this crazy show. The series acts as if the focus is on Marta and the sacrifices she must make once Evan dies. But, Red Widow insists on surrounding this with a slew of characters and subplots. Many people are involved in Marta's life and they all get their time in the spotlight. This scattershot approach is made even worse by the fact that every character is involved in some sort of dire drama and each of them is horribly flawed, and everyone double-crosses someone. Instead of introducing characters and ideas and allowing them the time to play out, Red Widow constantly serves up new faces with new issues. The whole thing feels like a kid at the frozen yogurt place who adds every flavor and too many toppings to their bowl until the whole thing is a gray mess which tastes terrible.

The worst thing about Red Widow is that there was a lot of potential here. Radha Mitchell is a solid actress, but she's given too little to work with here and she just keeps doing the same thing over and over. Each episode feels like a pilot as they all seem to end with Marta learning once again that she owes something to Schiller. We don't see the Russina mafia in that many TV shows or movies and Red Widow had a great chance to show us how it differs from the mob stories we've seen which feature the typical Italian criminals. But, it does nothing to differentiate this group, save for the fact that everything is about family. Although this set is entitled "The Complete First Season", it should read "The Entire Series", as the show was canceled following the airing of the initial eight episodes. The question is, does the show play like something which knew it was going to be cancelled? I really can't answer that, but I can say that many things are resolved by the end of Episode Eight. But, that doesn't mean that they are satisfying. Marta learns the truth behind her husband's murder and I hate to use my daughter's vernacular, but it's pretty stupid. Red Widow had the chance to offer a different kind of crime show, but it simultaneously bit off more than it could chew while not trying nearly hard enough. Along with the "red widow", you get viewers seeing red for wasting their time on this show.

Red Widow: The Complete First Season has Marta creating a distraction every few minutes on DVD courtesy of ABC Studios. The season's eight episodes have been collected on two DVDs here. The show is letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look good, although there are no real vibrant tones here, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail and the depth are OK, but they don't rival HD broadcast quality. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is an average and not overly active track. Being a drama for the most part, the dialogue sounds fine. We do get some noticeable stereo and surround effects during street scenes and most especially in the scenes on the harbor. However, these effects aren't overly detailed and bass action is kept to a minimum.

All of the extras on the Red Widow: The Complete First Season DVD are found on disc 2. "Red Widow: The Journey" (14 minutes) follows Executive Producer Melissa Rosenberg through the process of making the show. We start in Los Angeles, where we see Rosenberg working with the writers and other producers to craft the show. We then follow her to Vancouver to see where and how the show is shot. Rosenberg then interviews some members of the cast (which is sort of odd). There is talk of the show ending and "saying goodbye", but it's difficult to tell if they knew that the show had been cancelled. The DVD contains eight DELETED SCENES most of which come from the pilot and run about 9 minutes. Finally, we have a 4-minute reel of BLOOPERS.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.