In the pilot episode of ABC’s new drama, Red Widow, kept housewife Marta Walraven (Radha Mitchell) makes two terrible discoveries: her husband has been gunned down in the driveway of their beautiful house, and he’s left her in possession of a substantial debt to local drug lord Nicholae Schiller (Goran Visnjic). To settle this debt and protect her three children from Schiller’s violent retribution, Marta takes the reins of her husband’s drug-smuggling operation, entering into the criminal enterprise that had supported her, but about which she had remained willfully ignorant. The basic premise of Red Widow, which was adapted from the Danish series Penoza by Twilight and Dexter scribe Melissa Rosenberg, could be dramatically ripe in the right hands. Unfortunately, the series is too preoccupied with including all the tropes of a gritty crime drama to believably develop the players necessary for such a drama.
Red Widow feels focus-grouped and dramatically scattered. All of the show’s characters, right down to Marta’s Russian mob-boss father (Rade Šerbedžija), are so clichéd that the episodes begin to feel like dramatizations of TV Tropes entries. Nicholae is treated as a mysterious and frightening figure by the other characters, but he speaks in sentences so hackneyed and acts in a manner so laughably opaque that he reads as a child play-acting rather than a master criminal: “There’s only one thing I dislike more than someone who steals from me—and that’s someone who wastes my time,” he says when Marta presses him to explain an ambiguous task he orders her to perform as payment for her debt. James Ramos (Clifton Collins Jr.), the F.B.I. agent investigating the murder of Marta’s husband is, of course, a gruff but sensitive man with a fatal weakness for troubled women (his girlfriend is a junkie!).
Red Widow fails to make good on Rosenberg’s promise to produce a compelling female antihero for network television. Certainly a complex protagonist that’s more traditionally feminine would act as a much-needed panacea to the overwhelmingly masculine crooked cops, drug-addicted doctors, and misogynists that have populated the major networks in recent years. Marta, however, fails even to approximate a complicated woman, and she shows little, if any, evidence of a rich inner life: Her grieving period after losing her beloved husband is so short and perfunctory that it seems unlikely she’ll remember him at all by the end of the season.