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Archive for March, 2016

51LDYXBc98LFamily. The one you’re born into. You love them or hate them (or maybe just tolerate them). They know you, and you know them. Or at least you think you do.

Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s debut novel gives readers the Plumb family: an odd collection of seemingly “normal” adult siblings who have ventured off on different paths in their lives, but are still bound together by the promise of a significant amount of money (“The Nest”) that is to be distributed among them when the youngest turns 40.

D’Aprix Sweeney, who began writing in earnest at the age of 50, competently explores the relationships, comic battles, skirmishes, surrenders and reconciliations of the Plumb family, in and around New York City. It’s a promising start for this writer, though I felt some characters got short shrift.

It begins with a car accident. Leo Plumb, eldest of the four siblings, speeds away from a wedding reception with a young waitress and, because his mind is (ahem) not on the road, the joy ride ends with a devastating crash.

From this rather clichéd prologue, the story jumps ahead a few months to when the Plumbs decide to meet with Leo (now freshly released from rehab) to discuss the state of the nest. It seems their normally disengaged mother has nearly drained the fund to settle up with the waitress and her family. Needless to say, brother Jack and sisters Beatrice and Melody want answers. Does Leo plan on paying them back? They all seem to be in some sort of financial crisis and were counting on the nest to get them through.

In the following chapters, we learn more about the Plumbs discover that maybe they are more like us than we care to realize.

Jack, an antiques dealer, seems to be the most desperate of the siblings, constantly hounding Leo for answers. He ends up crossing paths with a 9/11 widower and trying to sell a piece of art on the black market to make money.

Beatrice, a once-famous writer, is trying to find something — anything — to jump-start her lagging career. She floats through life, going to literary gatherings and lunches, trying to make sense of it all but mostly coming up empty.

Melody, mother of twin teenage girls, is trying her best to keep her family on track and keep up appearances in their small commuter town. Can they keep up the payments on their suburban home? Can they afford to send the twins to a decent college?

Many of the New York settings feel alive and vibrant. Sometimes the descriptions are a bit flowery (as with the place settings for a fancy birthday party), but at other times D’Aprix Sweeney captures perfectly a fleeting sense of time and place, such as in the touching epilogue, set at a completely different kind of birthday party.

She successfully weaves the siblings’ stories together and creates layered, believable female characters (although a couple of spot-on, character-enhancing flashbacks came a little too late in the story for me). In the end, the women get more of the novel’s happy endings, while the men’s stories are smothered in clichés and drift away.

The Plumb family may or may not be your favorite shot of comic family dysfunction. But it leaves me eager to see what comes next from this late-blooming author.

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1tvttwn_tzrIn this coproduction with BBC One, the Lifetime network takes a sharp left turn from their usual fare by presenting this two-part miniseries adaptation of Agatha Christie’s unique murder mystery. It’s set in 1939 and follows 10 strangers who are invited to a remote island off the coast of England. The setup is creepy and just a little uncomfortable — and then people start dying. The cast features Charles Dance, Burn Gorman, Douglas Booth, Anna Maxwell Martin, Sam Neill, Miranda Richardson, Toby Stephens, Noah Taylor and Aidan Turner. 8 p.m. Sunday, March 13, on Lifetime.

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1tvlmoe_tzrA lot of the fun in this odd comedy is seeing how Phil Miller (Will Forte), who initially thought he was the last man on Earth, discovers that he is not alone on this planet. The new additions to the cast have been great (Kristen Schaal, January Jones, Mary Steenburgen), and tonight Phil’s astronaut brother, Mike (Jason Sudeikis), crashes the party. 9:30 p.m. Sunday, March 6, on Fox.

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1tvhapandleo_tzrThis sounds promising, or at least a little different from the normal TV fare. The network is calling this new series a “comic swamp noir.” It’s based on the novels by Joe R. Lansdale and stars James Purefoy (“The Following,” “Rome”) and Michael Kenneth Williams (“The Wire”). Christina Hendricks (“Mad Men”) gets the plot moving as Hap’s ex-wife who approaches the pair with a get-rich-quick scheme. Series premiere, 10 p.m. Wednesday, March 2, on Sundance.

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