Does Animal Kingdom Still Work Without Ellen Barkin - VRGyani News and Media

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Sunday, August 22, 2021

Does Animal Kingdom Still Work Without Ellen Barkin

Everyone knows that Ellen Barkin is a world-class actress. She’s taken projects like Switch and The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai and helped elevate them from what could have been campy, forgettable film fodder to classic experimental film fare, of the cult variety. She’s won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in White River Kid, and she’s taken home the Tony Award for her Broadway debut in The Normal Heart. With regards to the TNT show, Animal Kingdom, she assumed the role so beautifully adapted by Jacki Weaver in the original motion picture and developed it into that of a fully fleshed-out, semi-sociopathic matriarch of a criminal family, bordering on the outskirts of traumatic, disturbingly incestual connotations. It was a role an actress of her depth and sensuality was born to fill.

Cut to the finale of Animal Kingdom Season 4. Smurf aka Janine Cody (Ellen Barkin), is waving a gun around threatening to shoot one of her three adult sons or her teenage grandson should one of them not put a bullet in her head to end her suffering from cancer. It’s a tense moment, as she screams at Pope (Shawn Hatosy), the tortured muscle of the family, to do it, while he battles his love/hate demons for his mother. But as it turns out, it’s the level-headed brains of the tribe, J (Finn Cole), who pulls the trigger before his unstable grandmother potentially kills his uncle. It’s a moment of not only nuclear-level family dysfunction, but one in which J symbolically takes the reins of the family business and puts himself at the forefront of his uncles’ criminal undertakings.

RELATED: Ben Robson on ‘Animal Kingdom’ and Why This Has Been a Defining Season for His Character

We’re now nearly halfway through Animal Kingdom Season 5, and Smurf is well and truly gone. Ellen Barkin’s character haunts the show like a ghost, permeating the rest of the cast’s actions and emotions, not to mention screwing them over one final time by leaving her entire estate to her friend Pam (Charlayne Woodard). Some would claim that Pam is the new matriarch of the gang, ordering heists in exchange for pieces of Smurf’s fortune, but the character doesn’t possess the chemistry or connections with Smurf’s boys to take her place, and her scenes are few and far between.

What is a true treat is the flashback treatment they’re giving to young Smurf (Leila George) and her two small twins, the aforementioned Pope (Houston Towe) and his twin sister, Julia (Scarlet Abinante). For those looking for the classy, flashy femme fatale that was Ellen Barkin’s Smurf, you might come away disappointed. Smurf, as played by George, is much more rough and tumble, dressed in ripped jeans and always playing fast and loose, as opposed to the careful planning and subtlety that Barkin’s version of the character had grown to utilize. But to me, Leila George is a breath of fresh air, finally fleshing out the backstory of Smurf and her children in a more visceral, mother wolf-type way than Barkin has ever displayed on the show.

Regarding J and his uncles, the idea they’d let him take control of their money and operations is a tough pill to swallow, realistically. But without giving too much away, it isn’t long before deceit and mistrust cause at least Deran (Jake Weary) to put the brakes on J’s rise in succession. And while some may see the show as more of a boys’ club now, the dynamics between these type A personalities and blood relatives are becoming even more fascinating without Smurf constantly manipulating them and turning them against each other. Apparently, they’re quite capable of doing that all on their own.

Barkin was incredible, and she is missed. But after four seasons, the show needed a major shake-up of the players. The one chosen seems to be panning out nicely.

KEEP READING: ‘Animal Kingdom’: Shawn Hatosy Teases Season 3 Finale & Pope’s State of Mind



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