City Island, home to the Rizzo family, is part of the Bronx; a small spit of land jutting out into Long Island Sound. Garcia’s character Vince Rizzo lets us in on a little local colour: a resident who has never left the Island is known as a ‘clam digger’ and those who have moved from elsewhere are ‘mussel suckers’. Vince, himself a ‘clam digger’, is the patriarch of a dysfunctional family who enjoy spectacularly confrontational dinners and whose entire relationship is built on the shaky foundations of keeping secrets from one another.
Vince is a prison guard (or, as he prefers, correctional officer) who wants to be an actor but is too afraid to tell his wife Joyce (Margulies). Instead he covertly reads Brando’s autobiography whilst smoking out of the bathroom window and goes to acting classes whilst pretending to be at poker games. Joyce and Vince think their daughter Vivian is hard at work fulfilling her scholarship potential at college when she’s actually a stripper. Youngest son Vince Jr. has a thing for ‘Big Beautiful Women’ and watching them eat via speciality websites. And of course each member of the family has a secret love affair with nicotine.
Then, just to make things easier, Vince’s love child Tony (Steven Strait) turns up in a cell of the correctional facility for jacking a car and Vince decides to bail him out and take him home, throwing him into the not-entirely-healthy family dynamic. Oh, and guess what? Vince doesn’t tell anyone (Tony included), that this erstwhile criminal is in fact his child. Inevitably, it all builds up to a climactic firework display of confusion, recrimination, violence and eventually, (SPOILER ALERT) forgiveness. And it’s a lot of fun getting there.
In lesser hands this family drama-slash-comedy could be mere histrionics and too much shouting, but the brilliant cast create something both agonizing and humorous then finally, touching. Garcia’s audition scene is great – from the uncomfortable Marlon Brando impression to his final swing into and immersion in his improvisation. While the final (SPOILER ALERT) reconciliation scene isn’t entirely convincing (after all the hysterics, it’s slightly hard to believe the bountiful acceptance flying around), the performances are so heartfelt you just don’t care. The only character out of joint is Molly (Mortimer), Vince’s acting friend, who is a little irritating in her self-conscious kookiness. And it may not be fresh ground – people have been dissecting dysfunctional families since a certain Prince of Denmark and his kin – but it’s a welcome addition to the canon. Much more satisfying and far less guilt-inducing than watching yet another reality TV family bratting around, this is good quality comedy drama not to take relationship tips from.