Lurid content drags down Flesh and Blood, a TV mystery about a death amid a dysfunctional family
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There’s no shortage of suspects in PBS’ new four-part miniseries Flesh and Blood. Even the deceased’s identity and cause of death—accident or murder—remain unknown, at least during the first two episodes. In a series of flashbacks, individuals answering questions from a detective (David Bamber) paint a picture of a family enmeshed in rivalry and deceit. Their recollections piece together the events that led to the probable foul play.
In this family, with adultery the norm and one individual involved in prostitution, foul players run amok. Besides the death puzzler, another question arises: How much sleaze and explicit language will viewers willingly sit through to learn who done it and who’s done for?
Vivien (Francesca Annis) has been widowed for 18 months when she meets Mark (Stephen Rea), a retired surgeon. Vivien’s longtime neighbor Mary (Imelda Staunton), who narrates much of the first episode, doesn’t like the looks of Mark. But Mary’s more than a concerned friend: She steams open Vivien’s mail and snoops around in her house.
Vivien’s three grown children—Jake (Russell Tovey), Helen (Claudie Blakley), and Natalie (Lydia Leonard)—don’t appreciate Mark’s “charm offensive” either, figuring he’s after their mother’s money.
But the kids are no angels. Gambling debts have all but ruined Jake’s marriage. He prostitutes himself to a wealthy older woman in hopes that financial stability will win his estranged wife back. Then he becomes angry when his wife sees another man.
Helen’s tough management style has turned a disgruntled former employee into a stalker. Her overbearing personality has isolated her stay-at-home husband, who copes by smoking pot.
Natalie has been having an affair for five years with her older, married boss. But his wife knows more than Natalie realizes and is not about to “let her win.” When Natalie confides to her boss that her father once had an affair, his response epitomizes many characters’ ethos: “We’ve all got secrets—look at us. It doesn’t make him any less of a father. Everybody lies.”
It remains to be seen whether the show’s writers ultimately condemn or gloss over these characters’ immoralities. I can guess, but am not interested enough to find out. If Flesh and Blood has gotten one thing right so far, it’s that flouting God’s design for sex and marriage brings painful consequences. Still, people outraged by others’ sins while oblivious to their own fail to see that their battle is not merely with flesh and blood, but with their own spiritual darkness.
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