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ANIMAL KINGDOM S1

Ellen Barkin in "Animal Kingdom pilot" 

Courtesy of TNT

The newest crime matriarch is ringleader of a four-son gang, made up of Baz (Scott Speedman), Craig (Ben Robson) and Deran (Jake Weary), plus Pope (Shawn Hatosy), newly returned from prison after taking a fall for his brothers. Joining the brood, and figuring out the dynamic along with the audience, is grandson J (Finn Cole), taken in after his drug-addicted mother overdosed in front of him.

Testosterone is thick in the Cody enclave, as the boys butt heads and jockey for alpha status. It’s all fun and games until anyone crosses Smurf. She’s loving (sometimes, in a creepy vibe, too loving) with her sons but coldly plots evil, money-making deeds and turns tiger mom when the family is threatened.

Smurf is “capable of great menace and some emotional cruelty but also capable of great love,” executive producer Lisco said when TNT introduced “Animal Kingdom” to TV critics meeting in Los Angeles this winter. Whether “her capacity for cruelty or her capacity for love is the scarier component of her character” will be explored further in the series, he promised.

Gail Pennington is the television critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.