I don’t think I’m breaking any news when I say that 2016 was full of surprises, but one of the most pleasant was the first season of Animal Kingdom, TNT’s series adaptation of a well-received Australian crime film of the same name. The hourlong drama centers around the Codys, a crime family in a literal sense, with mastermind Jeannine “Smurf” Cody (Ellen Barkin) choosing and planning heists and robberies for her four adult sons (Scott Speedman, Shawn Hatosy, Ben Robson, and Jake Weary) to execute. Season 1 focused on the arrival of Smurf’s 17-year-old grandson, J (Finn Cole), whose mother has died of a heroin overdose after years of estrangement from the family, leaving J nowhere else to go.
Over the course of the season, J proved his worth and resourcefulness as an addition to the crew, and eventually decided to embrace his place in the family — limitless untraceable cash, and the many toys it can buy, can be seductive — as the Codys parlayed his relationship with his girlfriend’s career-army dad into a colossal heist of Fort Pendleton.
I enjoyed this show far more than I expected to, thanks to the clever plotting, fine casting and performances in the service of well-drawn characters, and a sense of place — in this case, Venice Beach and the surrounding Los Angeles area — that most shows would kill for. And let’s face it, there’s nothing more compulsively watchable than a well-constructed heist sequence, and this show provides one every couple of episodes. As season 2 begins, a little time has passed since the events of the season 1 finale, so let’s check in with the principal characters to see where things might go from here:
Jeannine “Smurf” Cody
It was never explicitly said during season 1, but my impression of Smurf has always been that she spent a lot of years using her sexuality to manipulate unsuspecting men to do her criminal bidding, and then when those powers of persuasion started to fade with age, she shifted her attention to her sons, who by then were old enough to carry out her criminal bidding. As we rejoin the Codys in season 2, it seems that her powers of maternal persuasion are fading just as surely, as they do in any mother-son relationship: Baz, Pope, Craig and Deran think Smurf is slipping, sending them on high-risk, low-yield jobs and putting them in unnecessary danger. I did not notice Smurf being a big drinker in season 1 but I there is hardly a scene in the first two new episodes where she is not clutching a vodka cranberry, which may be contributing to her poor judgment. “Her boys” may be chafing at the bit to take control of their own destiny, and she may even let them, but it doesn’t mean she’s out of the game.
Barry “Baz” Brown
Though he’s not actually a Cody by blood — he was adopted by Smurf as a teenager and raised as one of her own — Baz is the most careful, sensible, diplomatic of the clan when it comes to the crimes and keeping peace within the family, but none of the above when it comes to women. Last season we learned that, years ago, Baz stole the love of Pope’s life, Catherine, and had a daughter with her, even as he kept a another lady on the side in Tijuana. But Catherine has suddenly disappeared — actually, Pope killed her on Smurf’s orders when Smurf learned she was talking to the cops — so Baz is now a short-tempered single dad, still trying to keep the peace within the family and still chasing anything that moves everywhere else. Pope never fell out of love with Catherine (smothering her with a pillow notwithstanding) so knowing how Baz treated her, and now seeing how he treats Lena, Baz’s daughter with Catherine, seems to have these two on a collision course.
Andrew “Pope” Cody
When the series began, Pope had just been released from prison after doing six years on a bank job gone wrong, and seemed to be emotionally unstable. He seems to have leveled off a bit, warming to J and generally behaving like a big brother to all the others, but his thousand-yard stare remains. The best thing (for an audience member) and the worst thing (for the other Codys) about Pope is you never know what he’s going to do next, and that dynamic seems to very much continue into this season.
Easily the most hedonistic and irresponsible of the gang, Craig ended season 1 by scooping up J’s high-school girlfriend Nikki when J broke things off. Partying with Craig, Nikki has acquired a taste for drugs, and as we rejoin them in season 2, the reality of taking on a teenaged girlfriend has set in for Craig, who is desperately trying to shake her off, and not just because she’s hoovering up all his drugs: tensions with her career-army dad have her making noises about moving in with him, which could exacerbate tensions with J.
The youngest of Smurf’s sons seems, despite having gay-bashed his own boyfriend in a desperate attempt to conceal his sexuality last season, seems to be the most pragmatic and easygoing of the Codys, and now that he’s out in the open with his orientation, comfortable enough in his own skin to be the one who seems the easiest to hang out with. He is also looking to a future that does not include smash and grab robbery by buying a bar, but to do that he’s going to need some fast cash.
Joshua “J” Cody
Soon after moving into Smurf’s house, J was pursued by LAPD detectives on Smurf’s trail who encouraged him to help them turn informant and put the rest of the Codys behind bars, an effort that included coercing his teacher into seducing him and urging him to cooperate (a mess that led J to dump Nikki). J resoundingly rejected the cops’ advances and played a crucial role in the huge Fort Pendleton score, so he is now a full-fledged member of the family, but that doesn’t mean he’s done being a chew toy among the other Codys: still young enough to need a mother figure, he’s left holding the bag with Smurf when his uncles declare their independence, and soon enough he’s being pulled from both sides to inform on the other. I’d sleep with one eye open if I were him.
Season 2 of Animal Kingdom premieres at 9pm ET on TNT; all season 2 episodes will be available the day after they air throughout the season.