By Rick Bentley The Fresno Bee
Television producers have found success with anti-heroes in “Breaking Bad” and “Dexter.” Audiences accept the drug deals and serial killings because the illegal activities are done for a greater good.
Now ABC hopes viewers will accept a woman in the anti-hero role in the new crime drama “Red Widow,” which debuts at 9 p.m. Sunday.
Radha Mitchell plays Marta Walraven, a woman whose perfect life is turned upside down when her husband is murdered. It’s only then she discovers he was involved in illegal activities and has to take over his criminal life to protect her family.
“And in the process she discovers things about herself and talents that she didn’t know she had,” Mitchell said.
“She’s somebody who’s very human and at the same time discovers aspects of herself that are more than she would expect, primarily because she finds the strength in herself as a mother.”
The series is based on the Dutch program “Penoza.” It comes from Melissa Rosenberg, who, before becoming the screen writer for the “Twilight” movies, worked on “Dexter.”
The gender of the main character may be different, but that’s about the only difference the writer sees between “Dexter” and “Red Widow.”
“It’s the same kind of an issue you’re dealing with in the character of Dexter, who’s a serial killer. How do you get an audience rooting for someone like that?
“How do you get someone rooting for a mother who’s making some really questionable moral decisions?
“So having gone through the four years I was on ‘Dexter’ has really helped me to find in those dark places what it is that’s universal, what it is we can all relate to. And again, as played by Radha, you really feel the humanity of this character,” Rosenberg said.
The ability of the Aussie actress to play the role comes from years of working mostly in films, such as “Surrogates,” “The Crazies,” “Finding Neverland,” “Phone Booth” and “Pitch Black.”
She found her transition to the faster-paced television world a little shocking. On a film role, she often has the time to spend weeks or months preparing. But in TV, actors only get days or hours to prepare.
Mitchell finds the quick pace both frightening and liberating.
ABC has only ordered eight episodes of the show, the same total ordered for the original Dutch program. Rosenberg learned one big lesson from the original show, where they killed all of their characters in the eight episodes because they thought there would only be one season.
Just in case ABC orders a second season of “Red Widow,” Rosenberg promises not to kill the entire “Red Widow” cast.
“We do kill people. People die,” Rosenberg said. “But, for me, it’s all about building characters and relationships that you want to stay with for five years or seven or however long we can cling to our time slot.”