What is Bloodline?

Kyle Chandler, Ben Mendelsohn and Todd Kessler tell us about Netflix’s new family drama/mystery thriller

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Family. You can’t live with them, you can’t drown them in a swamp.

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Or at least you shouldn’t. 

Launched today, Bloodline is the latest original show from Netflix, joining a library that includes the unparalleled Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and towering House of Cards.

The wholesome Rayburn clan (mother: Sissy Spacek, father: Sam Shepherd, responsible brother: Kyle Chandler) meet up at their hotel in the Florida Keys for one of those big family reunions you only see in American TV shows and Norman Rockwell paintings. Everything’s going great – beer, BBQ and photo albums – until official black sheep Danny (Ben Mendelsohn) rolls back into town.

Cut to: the near future, and something has gone very, very wrong. They won’t be mentioning this reunion on the Rayburn family Christmas card. 

“Families are complicated, not to be all Facebook status update about it,” Mendelsohn tells RadioTimes.com “This year you’re going to sit down at Christmas table and this year you’re not going to get angry at Auntie Marge, and it just happens. It’s family dynamics, it’s just hard wired.”

We won’t say anymore, lest we spoil the fun, but this argument goes further than a burnt turkey. Noirish and pulpy, Bloodline unspools like a cross between Key Largo and Brothers & Sisters. Despite the gothic overtones, Bloodline’s depiction of family life – particularly the relationship between adult siblings – is uncomfortably real. No matter how old we get or far we’ve travelled, the moment we are back home we regress into our teenage selves: the golden child, the black sheep, the lunk, the princess etc etc etc. 

Indeed, the cast quickly found themselves acting like a family, with all the roughhousing that goes with it. “We all lived down in the Florida Keys for a long period of time and we did bond, we would gather round as a sort of family,” says Chandler, best known for Friday Night Lights and Wolf of Wall Street.

Chandler and his on-screen brother break down in fits of giggles when remembering some hijinks with fireworks. “We almost caught a dock on fire!” Chandler yelps. “Norbert [Leo Burt, who plays hotheaded brother Kevin] kept insisting that he get to light the fireworks, and we almost threw him in the water! We did sort of play the older brothers and yeah, Norbert took the brunt.” 

Now now, play nice or someone will lose an eye. Or worse.

The pace is slow, as befits the suffocating heat and grey skies of the Keys, but gradually the soap opera pulls back to reveal an addictive mystery. Todd Kessler, who previously created the legal drama Damages with his brother Glenn and frequent collaborator Daniel Zelman, explained: “We really wanted to explore family. After Damages we wanted to put on a family drama in a way that had had never been seen before. This is a family drama which becomes a thriller, inspired by movies like Body Heat, and Cape Fear, and a little bit of Fatal Attraction.”

Writing with your brother? On a show about (possibly) murderous brothers? What was that like? “It’s been a really extraordinary job to be able to explore these inner family dynamics, and actually be doing it with my brother. It’s something that is a living breathing relationship, and we can bounce ideas off each other for the show.”

But did they want to kill each other at any point?

“Yeah, even before the process.”

With Damages and The Sopranos under his belt, T. Kessler knows the modern age of serialised television, but Netflix brings its own approach. “The writing process is similar, but we’re excited about the fact that all episodes are available at the same time, it means that the audience can spend more hours with the characters. It is sort of designed to be binged.”

With that and ideas for a future series –“we’re very hopeful and Netflix is very enthusiastic about deciding to have one” – it seems you have permission to skive off this Friday and start binging.

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Is it better than House of Cards series three? Well, that’s all relative…