Who knew that Russian mobsters lived in gorgeous San Francisco estates? In Red Widow, Radha Mitchell plays Marta Walraven, a typical housewife living in the most atypical of mansions. Pristine and facing the bay, her house looks like the home of a movie mogul. The setting is wrong, giving it a Desperate Housewives crossed with Breaking Bad vibe that doesn't work.
Marta comes from a family of Russian mobsters and her husband is heavily involved in the business. After a deal gone bad, Marta's husband Evan is shot dead. To pay off the debt, Marta must take over her husband's business. How Shocking. No one could see this coming.
Evan is partners with Marta's brother, Irwin, and another friend Mike in the "import/export" business. But Irwin decides to steal cocaine from a rival, Christian Schiller, played by Goran Visnjic, without Evan's consent. This is what led to Evan's murder and Irwin's incarceration, even though Irwin says it was Evan who set the deal in motion. But while Marta's father is a Russian mob boss, it is Marta herself who must repay Schiller for her husband's bad dealings.
Thus, the plot starts to feel like something we've seen multiple times before. In Traffic, Catherine Zeta-Jones's character took over her husband's drug empire while he was imprisoned. In Red Widow, Marta tries to put on the face of a woman living her life after her husband's tragic death, protecting her three children from the chaos. All the while she must become an overnight "importer/exporter" since Schiller will make her pay with her life if she doesn't follow through. Not to mention, the FBI is hot on her trail. What's a girl to do?
Radha Mitchell is a really good actress given the right role. While this show has many elements that could make it a powerful and hard-hitting drama, the setting is all wrong. There's no grittiness to it that makes a show like Breaking Bad so enthralling. San Francisco waterfront mansion life hardly makes the harsh realities of illegal drug smuggling seem plausible.
To be fair to the character of Marta, she wanted her husband to get out of mob life. But unfortunately it was too late. After his murder, Marta is propositioned by the FBI to help bring down Schiller. But she's already in the game by the time the proposition is made. For someone who supposedly knew little about her husband's business, she sure knows what she's doing. She glides into the "business" like a trained professional. The girl knows her way around a gun.
Unfortunately, none of this makes for a compelling drama. The plot is so unrealistic it's hard for the viewer to maintain any level of interest. The family Russian mob overture makes the plot even more implausible. It's impossible to buy that the FBI would not have taken down Marta's family years before this. They live like the social elite of San Francisco. Unless something changes, Red Widow will be gone faster than you can say 666 Park Avenue.