When Virginia Madsen was catapulted into relevance again by her 2004 role in Sideways, I was thrilled to see the Candyman star actually get nominated for some major awards. I don't know what happened after that, aside from her being in some pretty boring movies (Firewall, The Astronaut Farmer, A Prairie Home Companion, The Number 23), but now it seems that whatever cachet she had regained has been used up. Not that I'm pitying film actors who move to television, mind you, it's just that Madsen's new show, Scoundrels, resides in a neutral zone between comedy and drama that is not particularly comedic nor dramatic, which makes it hard for me to find it funny, take it seriously or even really like it.
Based on the long-running New Zealand TV series Outrageous Fortune, Madsen is kind of one-note angry as Cheryl West, the mother of a clan of thieves and criminals, whose patriarch Wolf is sentenced to prison for five years in the first episode. Presumably, there will be regular visits to him in jail, but that's where comparisons to The Good Wife will likely begin and end. Cheryl runs the family stolen-goods store and plays mother to four kids: two daughters and two sons. The sons are twins who couldn't be more different, yet are played by the same actor: short-haired Logan has just passed the bar exam, and shaggy Cal is the world's dumbest burglar. Older daughter Heather doesn't work, but has been secretly building her lingerie-modeling portfolio, while youngest daughter Hope has been skipping school for months to work on a screenplay. Her hall pass: blackmail photos of the principal having sex with Logan at school.
So while they all have their own (vaguely) shady tendencies, their father's sentence puts a damper on things, and Cheryl decides to pull the plug on all of it once an angry Chinese mob family comes looking for Cal (specifically, a relic he stole). Presumably, the family will still struggle with its crooked instincts, but it seems like a showkiller to make your criminal characters stop acting like criminals in the very first episode. (The Riches had its con-artist characters pretend to go legit, but they were also impersonating a dead family, so every day was just one big con.) There are still bad influences, of course -- new store manager Charlie may still want Cal to pull jobs for him, and Chinese crime daughter Patty Hong may end up being a recurring character in Cal's life -- hopefully, they won't play stereotypical Asian music every time she enters a room like they did the first time. But there's also a good influence -- a police detective played by 24's Carlos Bernard (Tony!), who seems primed to start flirting more openly with Madsen now that her hubby's in the clink and she's sworn to go straight.
The show has moments of near-drama -- at one point Cheryl sobs in her car after visiting her husband in jail, and Heather narrowly reverses being roofied and raped -- but given the humorously obsessive and/or oblivious personalities of the children, it seems to be leaning towards comedy. Sadly, it's not zany enough to be appealing in that sense, and the show doesn't really seem to be pushing any boundaries, because while the premise reminded me of The Riches, the execution reminded me more of Sons of Tucson. And in case you weren't lucky enough to catch that show's brief run, that isn't exactly a good thing.
What did you think of Scoundrels? Let us know below, then see what other new shows kick off this summer.
Watch TWoP's editors discuss this summer's TV guilty pleasures in this segment airing on the New York Nonstop cable news channel:
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