Marta Walraven (Radha Mitchell) lives in upscale Marin County outside San Francisco with husband Evan (Anson Mount, “Hell on Wheels”) and their children. Marta’s father is a Russian mobster and Evan has some comparatively minor dalliances in illegal activities (pot smuggling). Marta has turned a blind eye to any nefarious doings in her immediate or extended family.
Then Marta’s dumb-dumb brother, Irwin (Wil Traval), is stupid enough to rip off crime kingpin Nicholae Schiller (Goran Visnjic, “ER”) and soon tragedy strikes. Evan is murdered and Marta has to beg Schiller to leave her family alone. He seems to agree that if she does one job for him, she’ll be done, but anyone who has watched TV in the past 40 years knows there will be more to it than that otherwise “Red Widow” would cease to exist, as fantastic a prospect as that might be.
So why was ABC interested in this blah show? Well, it’s a story told from a female point of view, always a plus for getting on the ABC schedule (see: “Scandal,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Revenge,” etc.). There are some clear “Sopranos” elements on the surface (mob + family drama) but let’s not sully “The Sopranos” by granting that “Red Widow” offers anything more than a glancing, faint echo. And “Red Widow” is written by Melissa Rosenberg, who wrote the screenplays for all of the “Twilight” movies before adapting this show from the Dutch series “Penoza.” But even “Twilight,” laughable as those films could be, had better drawn, more relatable characters than “Red Widow.”
When Marta isn’t learning how to be a mobster, she’s managing the lives of her children, including elementary school-age Boris (Jakob Salvati), who gets expelled for bringing a gun to class to confront a bully. This half of the “Red Widow” story is no more compelling than the equally dull mobster-in-training plots.
There are many problems with the “Red Widow” pilot, which airs as the first hour of a two-hour premiere. Evan comes across as the most compelling, conflicted character and when he dies – something given away long ago in ABC promos – the whole show sort of deflates. Evan and Marta as a couple proves more engrossing than Marta on her own.
In its first hour, “Red Widow” flirts with the notion that it might have a sense of humor – Marta’s mom (Natalija Nogulich) appears and offers some hope for buttinski mother gags but then disappears – then quickly dispenses with that in favor of the sobering business of a woman learning the ropes of the mob trade, a predictable, boring enterprise.
Unlike a black widow, who mates and kills, “Red Widow” seems more likely to bore viewers to death.