It's hard to think of many stories that open with such a monstrously sobering, almost unbearable sense of impending doom as Bloodline, Netflix's latest original production. The series wastes no time telling us that it will be a tragedy, a horrible, deeply affecting story about the destruction of a family, and a compelling lesson in fatalism.
Netflix will post all 13 first-season episodes on Friday.
An intricately drawn and superbly cast portrait of a family in crisis that evokes Raymond Carver and James Dickey, Bloodline has the feel, the imaginative reach and aesthetic depth and resonance of a novel.
"Sometimes you know something's coming," narrator and hero John Rayburn says in a voiceover at the very top of the pilot, as we are treated to an aerial view of the lovely approach to the Florida Keys. "You feel it. In the air. In your gut. You don't sleep at night. And the voice in your head's telling you something is going to go terribly wrong. And there's nothing you can do to stop it.
"That's how I felt when my brother came home."
This dirge is delivered with an almost delicate, mournful tone that belies Rayburn's rugged good looks and his solid build. Rayburn is, after all, portrayed by Kyle Chandler, who embodied all things clear, clean, masculine and straightforward on Friday Night Lights.
It's a sunny, cloudless day at the gorgeous Florida Keys hotel run by John's parents, Robert (Sam Shepard) and Sally (Sissy Spacek) when the Rayburn clan - including John's brother Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz) and their younger sister Meg (Linda Cardellini) - gathers to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the wildly successful hotel that the senior Rayburns built from nothing.
Sally is downcast: Her eldest child, Danny (Ben Mendelsohn), who is perpetually broke and in trouble, isn't there yet. But he does come. As John predicts, he unleashes a maelstrom of criminality, hatred, and rage that tears them all apart. It will be a mess that is resolvd only when John commits one of the greatest of biblical sins.
We know this because Bloodline has a funky, cyclical structure: We not only follow the story from the beginning to end, but also are confronted by fascinating, if fragmentary, flash-forwards that offer a glimpse of the horror to come.
It will take all 13 episodes to piece togther the story. Until then, we can only see things through a glass darkly.
The flash-forwards are a trademark of the show's creators, the trio of Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler, and Daniel Zelman - who used the method to varying degrees of effect in their fiercely intelligent legal thriller, Damages.
Chandler delivers a nicely modulated performance through the temporal shifts. Post-crisis John Rayburn is a very different creature than the sweet-natured sheriff we grow to like through the course of the first episode.
"Please don't judge us," he says at the end of the pilot after divulging his sin.
"We're not bad people, but we did a bad thing."
Meet Eloise's dad
One of the most awesome things about children's-book-series heroine Eloise is her remarkable freedom. She lives in a world that seems utterly devoid of parental authority.
Created in the 1950s by author Kay Thompson (who died in 1998) and the now-88-year-old illustrator Hilary Knight, Eloise has been celebrated as a proto-feminist. She's not hung up on her looks and not afraid to display her smarts or her independent spirit.
Actor-writer Lena Dunham (Girls), who has been a lifelong fan, takes a closer look at the character and the artist who gave her form in It's Me, Hilary: The Man Who Drew Eloise, a half-hour documentary premiering 9 p.m. Monday on HBO.
"She doesn't brush her hair," Dunham says of Eloise. "She doesn't care if her stomach hangs over her shirt. So there's a lot to relate to when you're a slightly weird child."
It's Me, Hilary isn't simply a doc about Knight's life and work. It's also an affecting story about the friendship that formed between him and the 28-year-old Dunham.
All 13 episodes of the first season will be posted Friday on Netflix (www.netflix.com).
It's Me, Hilary: The Man Who Drew Eloise
Premieres 9 p.m. Monday on HBO.EndText