ABC’s New Drama ‘Red Widow’ Influenced by ‘Breaking Bad’?

by | February 20, 2013 at 10:53 AM | Midseason 2013, Red Widow

Radha Mitchell in "Red Widow" (ABC)

In ABC’s new drama “Red Widow,” Radha Mitchell stars as Marta Walraven, a stay-at-home mom forced to do the unthinkable when her world is turned upside down by a life-altering event. If the premise sounds at all like “Breaking Bad,” that’s because the series was largely influenced by the dark AMC drama.

Set Your DVR to Record “Red Widow”

“That’s one of my favorite television shows,” executive producer Melissa Rosenberg admits. “It is a bit the model [for this show].”

Originally based on the Dutch series “Penoza,” “Red Widow” focuses on Marta, a mother of three who’s gone to great lengths to separate from her family’s ties to the Russian mafia, only to be found again in their clutches when her husband is mysteriously killed and she is forced to repay his debts.

At the center of the show is “the story about Marta protecting her family, protecting her children,” Rosenberg says. “That’s what the series is about, and the lengths to which she’ll go to do that, not always necessarily making the right choice.”

Elaborates Mitchell, “[it's about] a woman living in two realities. One is the sort of crime reality, and the other she’s a mom, and she’s dealing with all these mundane, maternal issues.”

Mitchell, primarily known for her film work, was attracted to the role because unlike Walter White (Bryan Cranston) or other paternal protagonists on television, Marta is a strong, capable and flawed woman.  “I was really sort of drawn to the fact that she really is a mom, and I think there’s something kind of beautiful about that maternal energy, and to see that not as sort of the bad cop character to a sort of male lead was quite interesting,” she says. “You don’t often see mothers in leading roles.”

Adds Rosenberg, “We’ve had on cable and then on network these male characters that are very flawed and complex, like Tony Soprano and Dexter and Vic Mackey. And then we’ve just begun to have that on cable for women in the form of Edie Falco on ‘Nurse Jackie’ and ‘Weeds.’ And now, I think this show is bringing that kind of a character to network. It’s a very tricky character to sell to an audience, because women are held to a higher standard. But as played by Radha, you have compassion for her. You are with her. Her experience is universal.”

Watch the Pilot Episode of “Red Widow” Before It Airs on TV:

Below, Rosenberg, Mitchell and the cast offer five things to know about “Red Widow,” premiering on Sunday, March 3 at 9/8c.

The Set-Up: Marta’s husband Evan (Anson Mount) at first appears to be the ideal husband and father — the free spirited yin to her uptight yang. But not all is what it seems. Evan supports the family by exporting marijuana. We soon discover that Evan’s business partner and Marta’s scheming brother, Irwin Petrov (Wil Traval), and their best friend, Mike Tomlin (Lee Tergesen), were involved in the theft of millions of dollars of cocaine from international crime boss Nicholae Schiller (Goran Visnjic). When Evan and Marta’s son pulls a gun on a bully at school, they decide that enough is enough and make plans to uproot their family away from Irwin, Mike, Marta’s Bratva (Russian gangster) father Adrei Petrov (Rade Serbedzija) and his loyal bodyguard Luther (Luke Goss). But those plans are cut short when Evan is mysteriously killed in the family’s driveway. FBI agent James Ramos (Clifton Collins Jr.) steps in to promise justice in exchange for cooperation, but Marta can’t go against the Bratva code. Instead, she seeks out Schiller to repay her husband’s debt and embeds herself in the criminal underbelly.

“Dexter” as an Influence: In addition to “Breaking Bad,” Rosenberg sites “Dexter” as a huge influence. It doesn’t hurt that she spent four years writing for the Showtime drama, either. “It’s the same kind of an issue you’re dealing with in the character of Dexter, who’s a serial killer,” Rosenberg says of creating the duality of Marta. “How do you get an audience rooting for someone like that, and how do you get someone rooting for a mother who’s making some really questionable moral decisions. So having gone through…“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.”

Look Out for the Hunky Crime Boss in Killer Suits: Goran Visnjic’s loyal E.R. fans remember him as the compassionate Dr. Luca Kovac. Schiller is nothing like Luca, especially when it comes to his wardrobe. “I love the suits. I love the suits!” Visnjic gleefully admits about his character’s designer duds. But beneath Schiller’s cold exterior is a heart, and it’s this complexity that Visnjic was glad to take on, calling the role a “welcome departure” from his usual fare.

Kiss the Hot Husband Goodbye Forever: Viewers of “Hell on Wheels” are familiar with the attractiveness of Anson Mount. Unfortunately, the pilot episode will be the only major opportunity to see him in all of his shirtless glory. Rosenberg says she “made a very conscious choice to move on from Marta’s husband,” despite everyone’s love of Mount. “I think we all really wanted to follow the character moving forward, and there’s so many interesting characters she’s surrounded with now that I didn’t want to dwell in what was. It is the catalyst for everything that’s motivating her forward, and there will be pops back to that. But the story’s about what’s happening now and the shift into her relationship with Schiller and with her family coming back together. I mean, that’s really where I wanted to focus.”

There Will Be Deaths: This is a show about criminal activity, so don’t expect everyone to survive the first season. As far as pile-up goes, she did want to steer clear of the ‘Penzoa’ model. “They thought that they had an eight episode-run miniseries, and they thought that was it. And they killed everybody. And then they were such a huge success that I even can’t imagine what those showrunners were going through the next year. They’re like, ‘Sh-t, I killed everyone!” she says. “So we don’t kill everyone. I’ll tell you that.” Adds Mitchell, “We kill some people, though.” Jokes Visnjic, “People die!” Ultimately, Rosenberg says it’s not about the deaths, but about not betraying the relationship with viewers. “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, you know, cling to our time slot,” she says. “So that I stepped out from right from the beginning in terms of the relationships, and there may be there are some subtle shifts in that from the original also too, knowing that that the goal is to continue on with these characters.”

“Red Widow” premieres on Sunday, March 3 at 9/8c on ABC before moving into its regular  timeslot at 10/9c on Sunday, March 10.