The first season of Bloodline could have passed for a chapter of high-budget Florida Man fan fic: Florida Man Argues, “The Wire Is Great — But It’s No Damages.” Florida Man Supports Voice-overs As Expository Device. Florida Man Blows Small Fortune on Vintage Ukuleles. Florida Man Vows Prestige Drama “Picks Up” After 10 Episodes. Florida Man Appreciates Middle-Period Chloë Sevigny. Florida Man Kills off Breakout Star. It was a season of strange directions, stubborn flourishes, and cancellation-worthy choices. It was a little terrible.
I found it impossible to resist.
The joke of Florida Man, give or take, is that it’s all just one guy. Every headline, every predicament, every awful LOL — these aren’t a bunch of, you know, random Floridians getting into trouble. Rather, they’re the work — the literal work product — of this one, singular, superheroic man. Florida Man — a sort of patron saint of fuckups. And the effect of the Florida Man meme is the same as that of many others: that, when repeated into abstraction, indiscretion grows … kind of sweet.
Bloodline’s first-season flaws, while myriad, abstracted on a similar plane. Pacing, DEATH, exposition, the open question of whether Kyle Chandler gained weight for commerce or art. … The show may have fucked up constantly — but never enough not to work. Or maybe just enough to work. Honestly, who’s to say? Past a certain level of fondness, the difference is obsolete.
Not content to become Florida Man, Bloodline’s first season was also about one. In Ben Mendelsohn’s Danny Rayburn, the show found the rare black-sheep hero who acted as black sheep do. Mendelsohn’s performance reaches past sweetness and taps into the sheerhumanity of being a fuckup. Danny moves through second chances with a force that’s hard to watch. For their part, his siblings — John (Kyle Chandler), Meg (Linda Cardellini), and Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz) — can only orbit the chaos. They take turns shunning him; saving him; forgiving him; and, finally, killing him. “We’re not bad people,” Season 1’s tagline cautioned. “But we did a bad thing.” Yeah — no sh-t: You murked your best character.
Such, then, is Florida Man’s gift and curse. Give him an inch and he’ll shove an alligatorthrough it. Give him some rope and he’ll tie a penis to his head. Give him one compliment and he’ll run for president. Give him Ben Mendelsohn in his prime and he’ll say, “Cool, thanks, nah.” Except, of course: not really “nah.” Somehow, some way, Mendelsohn is back… as a series regular??? It makes no sense. And yet: Florida Man Casts Ghost-Corpse in Netflix Drama. Maybe Bloodline’s worst mistakes are its healthiest choices. Maybe it’s perfect.
But even Florida Man eventually went legit — and I wouldn’t bet against the Rayburns doing the same. Bloodline’s second season looks slicker, tighter, leaner, and just more confident than its debut. Its focus feels shifted — less “we’re not bad people” and more “we did a bad thing.” It seems free to unravel now: to act like a responsible thriller, to fulfill its destiny as real and true SWAMP sh-t, to become regular old TV. I think it’ll be a hit. Or, who knows, it might drown. That’s what’s so great about fuckups — you can’t ever count on them. Which is to say: You always can.
The second season of Bloodline is now streaming on Netflix.
This piece originally appeared in the May 27, 2016, edition of the Ringer newsletter.