Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Animal Kingdom: For Writers Who Like to Walk on the Wild Side

by Maggie King 

Characters who are so good at being so bad … that’s Animal Kingdom in a nutshell.

On May 29, Season 3 of TNT’s Animal Kingdom premieres. Will I be watching?

I never missed an episode of the first two seasons, based on the 2010 Australian film of the same title.

For the uninitiated, here’s TNT’s blurb for Animal Kingdom:
Animal Kingdom is an adrenaline-charged drama starring Ellen Barkin as the matriarch of a Southern California family whose excessive lifestyle is fueled by their criminal activities, with Scott Speedman as her second in command. Shawn Hatosy, Ben Robson, Jake Weary and Finn Cole also star.
Ellen Barkin is all bottle-blonde magnificence as the controlling and manipulative mom, hell bent on getting her way. She always does. Her sons and grandson are your classic sexy-as-all-get-out bad boys. And they don’t mind shedding their clothes on-camera. Often.
Folks, this ain’t Hallmark fare. No one is nice. It’s even hard to root for the detectives who are trying to bring the family down—they may be on the right side of the law, but just barely. But characters don’t have to be likeable, just compelling.

Writers can benefit from watching Animal Kingdom with its nuanced and layered portrayal of a dysfunctional family. The tone can be ratcheted down, or up, to suit a readership. Glimpses of humanity will surface briefly, only to be quelled. The dark tale contrasts with a sunny Southern California setting, creating a virtual underworld that emphasizes the unsavoriness of the plot and those characters who are so good at being so bad as they walk on the wild side.

A word on the violence: Season 1 of Animal Kingdom started out with a creepy, menacing tone and only a suggestion of violence. By season end, I watched someone get beaten to a bloody pulp, punch by punch, kick by kick. I hesitated to watch Season 2.

But I’ve long been intrigued by scary moms who manipulate their children, especially their sons, and get them to do their evil bidding. It’s a theme that shows up in my writing. Animal Kingdom illustrates this family dynamic to perfection.

And so I watched Season 2. Frankly, I don’t recall much violence. It certainly didn’t approach the level of Season 1.

Circling back to my original question: On May 29, will I be watching the Season 3 premiere of Animal Kingdom?

I wouldn’t miss it.

Cast of Animal Kingdom. Picture courtesy of TNT

More on Animal Kingdom from TNT.  

More on Animal Kingdom from Rolling Stone.

For writers who prefer milder TV fare as writing inspiration, here’s my post from January of this year.


Glen King said...

They are not a pleasant lot

Maggie King said...

No, they're not! Steer clear.

Amy Reade said...

Maggie, you've introduced me to more shows than anyone else I know. This one sounds good! I'm not sure about the violence, but watching it as a writer might be an interesting way to relax and learn at the same time. Thanks for the info!

Maggie King said...

Amy, like I said, the physical violence wasn't bad in season 2. The emotional---that'a another story! Try it---it's strangely compelling and quite popular.

G.B. Miller said...

Having watched the movie, I definitely have no interest in watching the series. Sadly, any t.v. series that is based on a movie, especially a disturbing movie like this, and isn't on pay cable (ie. Showtime, HBO or Encore) is bound to be a major disappointment.

I will say that one particularly disturbing scene in the movie, unfortunately inspired me to write an equaling disturbing one-third of a novel. This unfinished novel bothered me so much that to this day it still gives me the creeps.

Maggie King said...

G.B. It sounds like you turned out some powerful writing! I never saw the movie, but imagine that it packed more punch, so to speak. As writers, we spend so much time with our plot and characters, so have to be at least somewhat comfortable with them. The time I spend with AK is limited and, like I said, I'm most interested in the family dynamics.

Linda Thorne said...

I haven't paid much attention to TV and have never watched this series. I have to say you did a bang-up job of describing it. When I saw the picture of the family, I felt like I knew them, sort of disliked them probably in the way the series' writers meant for viewers to dislike them. Your post drew my attention. I can see this series providing some slants and fodder for your books. The fact that the movie stirred one of those commenting here to write a 3rd of a novel and then not to finish it because of how disturbing this author found it to be, was interesting.

Maggie King said...

Linda, thanks for your kind comments as well as for your previous advice. I did use the byline!

I agree, that picture of the Cody family is very telling. And I found that comment interesting as well. Perhaps the author will revisit what he wrote and tone it down to be less disturbing.

Linda Thorne said...

Maggie, I noticed the byline right away. It looks good and your name will always be connected to this story if any of the labels you've used pull someone to this site or someone is looking through prior Novel Spaces posts they'll relate this to you.

Yes, that picture is a mirror of how you described these people.

Liane Spicer said...

Erm... You had me at '...classic sexy-as-all-get-out bad boys. And they don’t mind shedding their clothes on-camera. Often.'

Ahem. Something for the girls at last.

Sounds like a great series. You're not alone in finding superbitches/femme fatales/evil matriarchs fascinating...probably because they're so very far removed from most of us who were brought up to be 'nice', or at least to try to be. However... My threshold for violent and disturbing fare is very, very low.

Maggie King said...

Liane, I understand about the low threshold for violence. Somehow I've made an exception for this show, but I usually avoid such fare.