I have 13 different hometowns. That’s because when I grew up my family moved a lot. We weren’t military, we were just vagabonds. My mother and stepfather were always chasing new opportunities while staying a step ahead of bill collectors and the law.
But one of my hometowns does happen to be a military town. In fact, it’s my hometown three times, as that’s how many times we moved back and forth to it. I spent a cumulative six years of my childhood growing up in Oceanside, California, which is next door to the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base. Those six years makes Oceanside qualify as the homiest of all my hometowns.
Recently I was browsing through the cornucopia of television offerings created by our hyperactive world of entertainment, when I encountered a show called, Animal Kingdom. It was not the nature show the title might lead one to believe.
Animal Kingdom is a TV series based on a 2010 Australian movie of the same name. But unlike the movie, the series is purely American. It’s about a family of criminals residing in a California beach community. It looked mildly interesting, so I thought I’d try watching the first episode of the first season, to see if it could draw me in.
It didn’t take long before I felt a tickle from the barb of a hook. Then, about halfway in, there were scenes that embedded the hook deep within the flesh of my soul. I came to realize that the setting of this TV series was none other than my hometown of Oceanside.
There was a scene of a long, straight road leading downslope toward the ocean in the distance. This was much like a road I’d ridden my bicycle up and down, many times. And then there were unmistakable scenes of the Oceanside Municipal Pier, and The Strand. This was my purlieu where I had often perambulated as a kid.
And there’s even a character in this series who reminds me of my childhood. Deran resembles a tough guy named Leroy, who my sister, River, married. She met Leroy in Oceanside, and he was as much a criminal as Deran. And he too, belonged to a family of thugs that engaged in shady business.
Deran Cody, played by Jake Weary, is the youngest of the brothers in the “Cody” family. The Cody family is run by a matriarch nicknamed “Smurf,” played by Ellen Barkin. There are four brothers altogether in this family, named Pope (Shawn Hatosy), Baz (Scott Speedman), Craig (Ben Robson), and Deran. They are Smurf’s children, and are all from different fathers. Also, there’s one grandson of Smurf’s, named Joshua, or “J” (Finn Cole).
Smurf does her best to run the family and control her children, but she encounters constant resistance and suspicion from them. She plans, or helps plan, “jobs” for her kids, and then they go out and rob and steal hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of cash or goods, in these heists.
One of Smurf’s challenges is to launder the booty, then dole it out to her children. This leads to a lot of infighting, because her kids suspect she’s skimming and holding out on them. Smurf handles this by being a master at pitting her kids against each other, in order to distract them from going after her.
But her grandson, “J,” is the smartest of the bunch. Smurf is in danger of having met her match, dealing with him. But that’s all I’m telling you. I won’t go into the plot any further, or I might spoil it for anyone who wants to watch this series.
My wife and I like a good crime-flavored TV series. We loved The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and Dexter, and would rate all three of them a 10. We kind of like Ozark (about a 6). But we hated Peaky Blinders (1). We rate Animal Kingdom as better than Ozark, but not quite as good as The Sopranos. I give it a 9, because it’s set in my hometown, but my wife rates it an 8.
Animal Kingdom episodes initially broadcast on Turner Network Television (TNT). Then they become available on Amazon Prime. The first four seasons are available free on Prime. That’s how Amazon gets you hooked, like a drug slinger on a street corner. Then, to watch Seasons 5 and 6 you have to pay $24.95 apiece. We’ve paid for our fix, by buying Season 5. Season 6 will be the final season, but it won’t be available until 2022.
The first season has 10 episodes, with 13 episodes in all the following seasons.
I’m surprised that Animal Kingdom hasn’t received much publicity or recognition. It debuted on TNT in 2016, but I’d never heard of it until a few months ago. In 2016 and 2017 it was nominated for a Saturn Award (whatever that is), as the Best Action-Thriller Television Series. However, it lost to Riverdale and Better Call Saul, respectively.
I think it deserves much better recognition than that, so I hereby nominate and award Animal Kingdom with the Tippy Gnu Golden Unicorn for best Television Series, Depicting Bitter, Infighting Members of a Crime Family.