Last Sunday, PBS’s “Masterpiece” premiered a new four-parter called “Flesh and Blood” that features a super cast. Francesca Annis stars as a recent widow and mother of three adult children who starts dating. Her new lover, a retired surgeon played by Stephen Rea, seems like a nice guy — but then maybe he’s a little shady and secretive. Her kids, played by Russell Tovey, Lydia Leonard, and Claudie Blakley, certainly think he is up to no good — which, it seems, only makes mom even more interested in him.
Meanwhile, a long-time neighbor keeps a sharp eye on the goings-on — creepily, maybe, or just affectionately; sometimes it’s hard to tell. She appears to worship the family, so maybe she hates them a little bit, too. The ambiguity is exquisitely and expertly delivered by Imelda Staunton, the actress who will be queen (Elizabeth, in the final two seasons of “The Crown”). The season is framed (not unlike “Big Little Lies”) by scenes involving a body being put into an ambulance, with Staunton talking to the cops about what she knows.
Watching these actors over the course of “Flesh and Blood” is consistently enjoyable. Annis is fantastic as a woman dying to take a risk after an unhappy marriage, swept up in a new sex life she never thought she’d have. Rea is just right as a man who could be — but maybe isn’t — a horrible villain. And the actors playing Annis’s character’s children are fully believable as siblings who taunt, tease, fight, and forgive even as adults. Alas, the story line, written by Sarah Williams (“Small Island,” “Becoming Jane”), is a bit less compelling, as it goes through all the familiar moves to manipulate our assessment of the new boyfriend. There are subplots, as the show delves into the kids’ lives, but they are laden with tired tropes. It’s all fairly juicy and melodramatic, but ultimately not especially original or surprising.