Most cop shows are all about police officers working hard to pull the pieces of a puzzle together to solve a particular crime. Some offer a smattering of scenes sprinkled in about the home life of those on the force. Rarely, are both angles featured.
Combining intricate detective work and serious personal struggles, UP TV’s first scripted drama Ties That Bind, features a central character who constantly strives to blend the two halves of her often diametrically opposed life.
The series tells the story of Allison McLean, a tough and experienced police detective in suburban Seattle who must arrest her bother, Tim, for aggravated assault. When Tim is convicted and incarcerated, Allison makes the decision to take in his two teenaged kids, even though she and her husband have two teenagers of their own.
Series creator Sheryl J. Anderson explains the evolution of the series, saying, “The specific idea came about because I lost my mom and my mother-in-law very close together and I came out of that painful time with a renewed appreciation for my brother, who is a very good man, but I thought, ‘what if he weren’t such a good person? Is there anything that he could do that I wouldn’t forgive him for?’ That was the central conflict that came to me out of that. With that idea in place I started to build the relationship between Allison and her brother and also Allison and her husband, Allison and her partner on the force, Devon, and then also Allison’s relationship with all four of the kids. I had to build a world in which all of those relationships are present and, most importantly, are believable.”
Once she had the foundation for the series, Anderson and her team of writers set out to craft the arc of the season. “I knew where I wanted the season to end so we did a lot of ‘reverse engineering’ in the writers room. We set up landmarks along the way that we wanted to hit to keep the story moving forward. To do that we had to look at all of the tensions within this fractured family and how they work to stay together. We specially wanted to touch on things like the complexities of bringing up children and the stress of maintaining a strong marriage and things like that. Then for the police procedural part of the series, we looked for crime stories that would thematically resonant with the family stories that we were telling so we could use the two halves of our hybrid show to counterpoint or underline the theme we’re dealing with that week.”
Uniquely balancing the family aspect with those crime stories was something that often perplexed Anderson. “That was a very challenging part of this, but it was also one of the most exciting parts of doing this—finding those moments within both the family part and the crime part that fit together best in terms of an emotional build for our season long journey. There’s definitely a satisfaction in making it all work.”
More specifically teasing what viewers will see this season, Anderson says, “On the crime side Allison and Devon investigate everything from murder to what appears to be kidnapping to theft and things like that so there’s a range of crimes and a whole range of people within the community—teenagers and established older members – that they deal with. On the family side, we explore the ups and downs of teens trying to find their space when they aren’t happy with their lives. We also look at the efforts that parents put into trying to do the best thing for their kids and how those things don’t always work out the way they think they will. And, we’re going to see the process of what it’s really like to try to make a blended family work; the connections that are successful and those that are more of a struggle.”
Giving away one tidbit, Anderson reveals, “Tim’s wife shows up and that really changes a lot of things. I think that’s a twist that will really surprise people, especially in terms of how everyone reacts to her presence. “And,” she adds, “there are some Incredible interrogation scenes that I think will surprise and move people.”
Anderson admits that in terms of production, she was surprised a bit about how the finished product turned out. “We had a very lean budget and a tight shooting schedule and that didn’t catch me off guard because I knew that going in, but what threw me a bit was that we got a gorgeous finished product. The crew made it look like we had more time and money than we actually did and their hard work resulted in a very polished and I think extremely visually pleasing look.”
The hand of fate was at work when it came to casing as well, reveals Anderson as she says, “We wanted Kelli Williams in the role of Allison from the very beginning and that worked out, and then we really wanted Jonathan Scarfe as Matt [Allison’s husband] and originally he wasn’t available because he had another commitment during the time frame that we were scheduled to shoot, but then we had to shift production a bit and he was able to do it. It was pretty amazing that that worked out the way it did.”
Casting the younger actors took a bit more of a leap of faith, reveals Anderson. “When it came to the kids, I didn’t look at any resumes. We had them read with Kelli and we picked them based on that chemistry. It was only after we cast them that I looked at each of their resumes and found out that they all have a lot of experience for as young as they are. They’re very professional but they, yes, they can be goofy on set too. I was glad we could cast actors who are close to the age of the characters because I think that adds an authenticity that I think is crucial in telling this story. This series is rooted in what I call ‘emotional forensics,’ and that’s defined in my mind as,’when confronted with an issue what emotions drive people to do certain things?’ So it’s important to have a cast that’s fearless and willing to dig deep to get to that emotional part and be able to show it.”
Citing her reasons for bringing this series to the masses, Anderson says, “As a writer and a parent, I don’t find a lot on the air right now that I can watch with my children. I miss the days when the whole family could sit down in front of one screen and be absorbed in one show. I would say all of your family can really enjoy this. Now having said that, I think a lot of what’s perceived as family based entertainment gets a false knock for being soft but we had a real effort to make all of this very relatable and I think people be surprised by how gritty this is. With all of this in mind, I really hope people are willing to embrace the multifaceted texture of this show.”
Ties That Bind premieres Wednesday at 9/8c on UP.