Red Widow tells the story of a woman who gets pulled into a life of crime after her husband, a low-down, dirty smuggler, is killed. Overall, Slay and I were both “meh” about the pilot, so we decided to take our questions somewhere other than the plot.
Selena: What are your overall impressions of the show? Did it match your expectations from the previews?
Slay: The previews for the show looked dark and dangerous. I was really caught by them — Rhada Mitchell has the cool, dangerous blonde thing down. And yet the first two episodes were So Boring. The tension was untense. The death of the husband was predicted from the previews. (It’s right there in the title. ~SMI) I found myself wondering how her retro-hippie husband was respected at all in the Russian mob. I mean, the guy was yummy and all, but I kept going, “Really, the Russian mob employs guys who wear sandals?” I bet his patchouli was really expensive though.
The show also took pains to make the main family look just sparkling. There wasn’t even a hint that either of the parents smoked the pot the husband imported. They had a nice, upper class house and nice cars, and super clean surroundings, and everything is so pretty and clean and oh, maybe they’re in organized crime, but not that tacky Jersey kind, super upper crust Russian kind.
While I could buy that someone who was raised in the mob would be willing to go to work in it to pay off her debts — something she seemed to know enough about the life to accept would have to be done — but she seemed super ignorant about how things worked? She explicitly said she was raised in the life and that she was trying to protect her kids from it, so that didn’t seem to jive with some of her behavior.
Ok, and one other thing that really bugged me — how did no one confront her about the FBI agents totally swarming the house? Or asking questions? Or suspect something was going on when she was talking to them? It seems a huge red flag.
Selena: Yes! THE MAN DIED IN FLIP-FLOPS? They live in a million dollar house. While I’m sure there’s a best seller down the road called “The Millionaire in Flip-Flops,” I don’t think the dead hot fella is one. He presented like he’d worked at the local Chevy plant for thirty years. I know this, he looks like every member of my extended family. Also agreed about how she got into the whole mess to begin with. Her own father, the assumed Scariest Russian Alive (who is also a teddy bear, DUALITY), is scared shitless of the (also hot) fella she hopped in business with. AND! Why didn’t Uncle Mike tell Marta it was her dumbass brother, and not her dumbass husband, who stole from Goran Višnjić?
Selena: Compare and contrast Marta from Red Widow with Elizabeth from The Americans.
Slay: Interesting question. I was thinking about asking you a version of this myself! We seem to be entering another wave of tough female protagonists on TV again (as opposed to “strong”), which, hey, I’m not going to complain about. But there’s Mob Doctor, Red Widow, Homeland and The Americans on the more actiony-drama side, Nashville, Revenge, and Enlightened for the more drama-y drama. And there’s some other spy drama on Showtime, right? Wait, are they all blondes too? What the hell
Anyway, I’m curious why there’s a push now. Weird cultural bubble? Acknowledgement that women can head an action show?
So, Elizabeth would eat Marta alive. Elizabeth is a dangerous woman pretending to be a suburban housewife. Marta is a suburban housewife who needs to be dangerous. I find it interesting that they’re both Russians — and I mentioned this when we talked about The Americans — that the Russians are having a resurgence as “bad guy” in pop culture when our real world cultural bogeymen are supposedly all Middle Eastern.
Elizabeth is more compelling by far. She’s the kind of character we don’t often see on screen, where she’s the one more certain and loyal to her cause than her male partner, and she’s got a simmering fierceness to her. Marta is more familiar — there’s all sorts of stories that feature women like her, who become dangerous to avenge a family member but would otherwise just continue their pampered soccer mom existence forever if this Tragic Event hadn’t happened. The Americans is definitely better plotted and paced, which doesn’t help the comparison. And there’s more at risk. Despite the father being killed in RW, and the theoretical threat from the mob boss, no one really feels like there’s anything at risk. No one cares that the FBI is sniffing around, one of the big crises is that the youngest son has been expelled from school, and it doesn’t seem like they’re gonna be losing their very lovely house any time soon.
They have to make Marta more interesting and don’t rely on her being so pretty. Have more skills from her childhood and upbringing. Make her more calculating. Show that she was tough before the tragedy.
Slay: Does this show have legs? Mob Doctor was built on a pretty similar premise (and similarly blonde, attractive lead) and is already off the air.
Selena: I’m not sure. I think it’s a solid premise (obviously, since lots of networks are doing it), but I don’t know if the execution is strong enough to keep it interesting. Then again, plenty of terrible shows, some of which I watch, stay on the air. I think Mob Doctor was substantially worse. I couldn’t make it through the first twenty minutes.
I think they can pull it off if they flesh Marta out a little more, torque down the clichè, and rely less on Marta’s boobs, I think it could be an enjoyable show. I don’t think it’s ever going to be groundbreaking, but I think it has a chance if it finds both its voice and an audience.
Slay: Pop culture seems to have moved away from the Italians to the Russians as the mob du jour. Does this affect the storytelling? Would this be the exact same story if they put it on the east coast in Jersey?
Selena: I had a whole argument about the differences between pop culture Italian mobsters v. pop culture Russian mobsters, but it doesn’t hold up. The only differences are what the mobsters eat and their accents. The Russians have more blondes, I guess.
So far, in Red Widow, the Russian mobsters are pretty cuddly. Even the muscle was kind and gentle with poor little Boris.
I think the Russian trend is because people of our generation are old enough to have a say in the pop culture landscape. We grew up convinced the Russians were going to nuke us right out of our elementary schools at any moment, they were our quintessential bogeymen. (Much like zombies are now. I could parse that further, but that might make a good article.) I could, of course, be totally full of shit, but that’s my theory.