Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

Ties That Bind premieres tomorrow night (Wednesday, 8/12) @ 9:00 PM on UP TV.

Cast:  Kelli Williams (The Practice, Lie to Me, Army Wives), Jonathan Scarfe (Hell on Wheels)Dion Johnstone (Stargate SG-1)Mitchell Kummen, Natasha Calis, Rhys Matthew Bond, Matreya Scarrwener and (special guest star) Luke Perry (Beverly Hills, 90210, Oz)
Created and written by: Sheryl J. Anderson (The Town That Came A-Courtin’)
Directed by: Sean McNamara (Soul Surfer)
Executive Produced by: Sheryl J. Anderson, Tom Berry and Stan Spry.

Synopsis (from UP TV’s press release): Allison McLean (Kelli Williams) (is) a tough and experienced police detective in suburban Seattle.  Like most working women, her hands are already full, balancing a demanding and dangerous job and a family — husband Matt (Jonathan Scarfe), and teenagers Jeff (Mitchell Kummen) and Rachel (Natasha Calis).  But when she and her partner, Devin (Dion Johnstone), must arrest her brother, Tim (Special Guest Star Luke Perry), for aggravated assault, her world drastically changes as Tim is convicted and sent to prison leaving his two teenagers Cameron (Rhys Matthew Bond) and Mariah (Matreya Scarrwener) teetering on the brink of foster care.  Having done the right thing as an officer of the law, Allison now feels compelled to do the right thing as a sister and aunt; she brings Tim’s two very unhappy teens into her home.  Squeezing four teenagers under one roof proves to be an additional test of Allison’s strength and patience.  It won’t be easy for her husband, her children or Tim’s kids either.  In addition to investigating local crimes, the series will also focus on the joys and struggles of the teens as they adjust to their new home, their new high school, make new friends and experience love, romance, anger and jealousy. 

Review: As readers of this blog know, I’ve been looking forward to this show. That’s because besides being UP TV’s first foray into original scripted series television, it revives the contemporary family drama genre (albeit expertly cross-bred with the police procedural). Some of my favorite shows growing up were of the Eight is Enough family dramedy variety and I’ve long felt television is overdue for a good new one. So, I had a soft spot for the show going in.

While Ties That Bind certainly has a harder edge than Eight is Enough, it delivers on its solid premise by presenting believable characters dealing with tough situations with a pitch-perfect blend of humor, love, grit and human frustration.

Kelli Williams, who spent eight seasons honing her procedural chops on the David E. Kelley legal drama The Practice, is very well cast as Allison McLean, a wife and mother who also happens to be a cop. She’s tough as nails on the job — so much so that she refuses look the other way to keep her own brother (Luke Perry in a presumably recurring role) out of the slammer.

But her heart — and sense of family duty — won’t allow her to let her teen niece (Matreya Scarrwener) and nephew (Rhys Matthew Bond) to be sent into foster care while their father sits in prison and their (unseen) mother struggles in drug rehab. Bringing them into the family (which includes Allison and Matt’s own two teens), of course, results in family tension — and the basis for the series.

While Allison is the serious one, her contractor husband Matt (Jonathan Scarfe), tends to deal with things with a little more humor — bringing a very necessary element to a show like this. Scarfe, BTW, bears a strong physical resemblance to Perry. The resemblance is strong enough that, with a slight tweak to the script, it would be easy to envision Perry’s character as Matt’s brother and Allison’s brother-in-law. Of course, maybe Matt also looks like Allison’s father, partially explaining her attraction to him. Or, maybe, I’m overthinking this.

In any event, the family dynamics at work in TTB are interesting, believable and provide lots of opportunity for growth.

As for the procedural side of things, the show is fairly standard issue in that realm — though also with lots of room for growth. Allison’s relationship with Devin Stewart (Dion Johnstone), her African-American male partner, works as well as most any Law & Order pairing (save, perhaps, Jerry Orbach and Chis Noth). At some point, I assume more about Devin’s backstory will be revealed. The fact that I’m curious shows something’s working in the chemistry between the two characters.

Speaking of backstory, my one real criticism of the pilot is that might have been better unfurled as a two-hour movie-length episode with more attention given to Allison’s brother’s arrest and his relationship with his kids. But given the pilot’s hour-long length, all the right notes were hit in terms of tone and setting up the show’s ongoing potential.

Though not a religious show, the McLean family is presented in prayer around the dinner table — signaling that this show is indeed on UP and not one of the broadcast networks. However,, in terms and acting, writing and production quality, Ties That Bind (despite, no doubt, a lower budget) is easily good enough to air on an established network.

TTB even has a good closing theme song (Back to Home by John Myers and Tristan Prettyman) which I wouldn’t mind seeing upgraded to the opening position. As I’ve written here many times before, I don’t agree with the trend toward removing tuneful opening credits from TV shows. To my mind, there is hardly a better marketing tool for a series than a good opening theme. Every time it plays in your head, it’s like a free advertisement for the show and a reminder to tune in.  But I digress.

The Bottom Line: For a first scripted series at-bat, I’d say UP hit it out of the park. Ties That Bind is Highly Recommended.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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