By RODNEY HO/ firstname.lastname@example.org, originally filed Thursday, April 7, 2016
Jackson Brooks - played by David Lyons - is a lawyer who seems to have it all: x, money, prestige, a loving fiance, good looks.
All that (except the good looks) is threatened when childhood friends he had left behind years earlier return with some bad news. Secrets are unspooled. Danger lurks.
That's the premise of NBC's newest drama "Game of Silence," based on a Turkish drama of the same name. It debuts after "The Voice" Tuesday at 10 p.m. before moving to its regular time slot of 10 p.m. on Thursday.
Atlanta is the production city for the series, masquerading as Houston, a first in my memory.
David Hudgins, who has produced "Friday Night Lights" and "Parenthood," has opted to work on much darker drama but still focused heavily on character.
Five childhood friends deal with trauma in different ways as adults. Flashback videos show silly goof turned tragic, landing four of them on the cusp of puberty in a detention center for nine months. The employees and some of the prisoners are so sadistic, it makes "Shawshank Redemption" seem like a vacation.
"There's a real nostalgia element to the show," Hudgins said. "You get to see the kids and all the promise they had before this happened. One of the things about storytelling is you get a chance to explore stories from the past and see how they fit in the present."
A quarter century later, one of the friends named Boots sees an enemy from the detention center in a random place and pummels him to near death. He is placed in prison for attempted murder and his friends reach out to Jackson, someone they had lost touch with since he had moved to the big city.
He gets sucked back into their issues and realizes he has an opportunity to take down the current lieutenant governor Roy Carroll. He's a corrupt politician who had run the detention center in its darkest days. What Carroll does to some of the kids is not explicitly stated, but it's clear it would land him in prison himself if he was found out.
"He's a very smart guy," Hudgins said of Carroll. "You think you have him cornered and he finds a way out of it."
The four friends include one African American named Shawn Polk, played as an adult by Larenz Tate. "He's the glue that holds the group together," Hudgins said. "In the detention center, he uses his charm and personality to get by. But you see real sadness in him as an adult, a sadness even his friends don't know about."
As for the nastiness that occurs inside the detention center, that is damage that is not easily fixed.
"We brought in therapists and psychologists and people who work with adults who had youth trauma," Hudgins said. "Everyone reacts differently. Some suppress it. Some move through it. Some can never get past it."
The early stand-out character is Gil (Michael Raymond-James), who has worked hard to tamp down his pain from being bullied and sexually abused at the detention center. "We think of his character as a hurricane," Hudgins said. "You don't know if he'll got left or right. He's a very passionate guy. He's the opposite of Jackson. That creates a great dynamic."
Jackson is a glib liar, always trying to smooth over things with a smile and soothing words.
"He's very good at compartmentalizing things," Hudgins said. "But he finds himself in an ever growing web of secrets and lies. It's ultimately going to cause major problems with his relationships."
An added complication: a childhood crush Jessie (Bre Blair) is back in the picture. "She has a lot of guilt," Hudgins said. And Jackson and Jessie have a murderous past that is not fleshed out until later.
The way the story is set up, many elements appear to be resolvable in the ten episodes of season one. But Hudgins said there is room for more seasons. He promises three cliffhangers that would lead into a sophomore year.
Hudgins is used to doing 22-episode seasons but 10 and 13 is becoming more common even on network TV. "It's closer to the cable model," he said. "As someone writing this show, I love it."
Early feedback, he said, has been good. "People say it doesn't feel like a network show. That's incredibly positive. NBC and Sony [the production company] have been supportive. They tell us to tell the story you want to tell. I had no creative pushback at all about the content. That was great."
Hudgins enjoyed Atlanta as a shooting location. While working on the short-lived Fox show "Past Life" in 2010, "it's gotten so much bigger as a production hub. You can get a lot of variety of shots. We got to shoot at a lake and do some country settings. The only thing we couldn't get was the Gulf of Mexico. We had to get creative there. Hopefully we'll be coming back soon."
"Game of Silence," 10 p.m. Tuesday (series debut), 10 p.m Thursday (regular time slot), NBC