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‘Animal Kingdom’ bites into a gritty underworld

DETROITNEWS.COM – Opening scene: A high school boy sits on a couch, watching a game show. Slumped next to him is the body of his mother, dead of a heroin overdose.

OK, start the party.

“Animal Kingdom,” a reworking of the brilliantly grim 2010 Australian film, is the kind of series you expect to find on AMC, FX or even HBO. How it ended up on TNT is anybody’s guess, but it’s the sort of show that can transform a network.

That boy is Josh (Finn Cole). After the ambulance takes his mother’s body away, he calls the grandmother he hasn’t seen in years, Smurf (Ellen Barkin, owning the screen). She comes to pick him up and install him at her Southern California beach community compound. There he meets his mother’s brothers (Scott Speedman, Ben Robson, Jake Weary), a group of criminal man-boys who steal at will, party hard and resort to violence as a first resort.

Pretty quickly Josh figures out why his damaged mother kept him away from this clan. That realization becomes even more clear when a fourth uncle, Andrew (Shawn Hatosy), arrives fresh from prison, resentful and full of crazy. But Josh has nowhere else to go. So he tries to adapt.

The series retains the film’s essentials — the powerful matriarch, the casual criminality — but adds elements of the original “Point Break” and “Sons of Anarchy.” These are not bad elements to add. It also stresses the tension between Barkin’s mad queen and each of her offspring, who parade around naked before her, threaten her, snort coke in front of her and yet bow to her. Barkin has been waiting for and deserving a role this good for decades, and she sinks her teeth squarely into it.

As gritty, dysfunctional family, crime-fueled dramas go, “Animal Kingdom” roars with dark promise.

Tom Long is a longtime culture critic.

twitter.com/toomuchTomLong

‘Animal Kingdom’

GRADE: B+

9 p.m. Tuesday

TNT

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