Animal Kingdom (2022)
Were we late to the Animal Kingdom party? Perhaps. Does it matter? Absolutely not, especially since you can dive in and binge-watch it just as its sixth and final season arrives. But if you want to hang with the Cody family buckle up! To say that they are not your average family is a massive understatement. Based on David Michôd’s 2010 Australian film of the same name, Animal Kingdom drop kicks you into the hard core, drug-induced, surf boarding, beer-guzzling, cocaine-snorting world of this unorthodox white crime family.
Here we get a front row seat to the criminal plotting, psychological manipulations, underhanded scheming, and sometimes lethal backstabbing of this southern California clan, headed by the Queenpin mother and grandmother Janine “Smurf” Cody played by the virtuoso Ellen Barkin. Barkin’s brilliance is in the way she inhabits Smurf – her too sweet “babies” that she coos at her “boys,” her erect spine, sauntering walk, and her steely gaze. Smurf is clearly running the show. But how long will her reign last as her boys grow tired of being told what jobs they can and cannot do and living on salaries doled out by Smurf. Smurf, so nicknamed by a male “friend” of her long-deceased mother for her love of swimming (she used to turn blue from staying too long in the water), is the head of this disorderly, bickering, sometimes deadly crime family.
She has, we soon learn, raised her sons to be criminals and when we meet the Codys, she is about to introduce her grandson – Finn Cole’s introverted Joshua “J” Cody – into this chaotic life on the heels of his mother’s (Smurf’s daughter’s) death by overdose. (Smurf gives J a gun as a gift and teaches him how to make homemade bullets.) J, a bright teenager, shell shocked from his only parent’s untimely death, is thrust into this den of vipers where the boys compete aggressively and dangerously for Smurf’s bizarrely sexualized affections. (She kisses them on the mouth often in a manner more befitting a lover.) As Deran Cody (played by Jake Weary) puts it in season two when he finally confronts Smurf and comes out to her, his fear is that she will no longer have any use for him since her ultimate desire is clearly for her boys to want to fuck her!
When we first meet the Codys, the eldest brother Andrew “Pope” Cody is fresh out of prison, off his meds, and itching to get back into the family “game” in a useful way. Does he hold a grudge? You could say that. He’s the one who got caught “holding the bag” (literally) when his last criminal endeavor with his brothers and mother went sideways. He did his time, didn’t narc, and believes he’s owed some respect and a pay day or two. Shawn Hatosy’s Pope has a seething, inscrutable demeanour (spectacularly creepy at times) that is balanced by the sexy recklessness (we see his ass a lot) of Ben Robson’s Craig Cody family screw-up and sometime cokehead and Jake Weary’s self-loathing, closeted Deran Cody, the baby brother whose repressed homosexuality drives him to harm himself and others he cares about. Rounding out the brothers is Barry “Baz” Blackwell played by Scott Speedman, not Smurf’s biological son, but a son in every way that counts, one of the Codys and an elder like Pope. It’s Baz who pushes his brothers to split from Smurf and start doing their own jobs; Baz, father to little Lena (played by Aamya Deva Keroles) and boyfriend to the Latina Catherine Belen (played by Daniella Alonso) who mysteriously (for him at least) goes missing.
Will the Codys ever get punished for their many crimes? While the drama clearly focuses on their exploits, with reoccurring roles, the black detectives Sandra Yates (played by Nicki Micheaux) and Patrick Fischer (played by Dorian Missick) team up to finally take the Codys down, perhaps. According to Yates, their crimes are much deadlier than theft. The edge-of-your-seat, pulse-pounding feeling you get from Animal Kingdom comes from witnessing the Codys increase the risk and potential rewards of their crimes. And as we soon discover, anybody and anything are potential co-conspirators or targets. In the first category, this includes the father of J’s teenage girlfriend’s Nicky (played by Molly Gordon) and in the latter category, a mega church.
What starts with smash-and-grabs, escalates to more intricate heists that require sophisticated equipment, weeks-long planning, and insider reconnaissance. The beauty of Animal Kingdom is the constant evolution of its characters. Just when you think you understand everyone’s motivations and roles, one of the Codys makes a completely unexpected move that throws you off kilter. It may also land one of them in jail or worse.