“He has dyslexia so he is forced to see things in a different way, like tape record his observations,” said Liz Heldens, showrunner and writer. “He wears nice suits as his armor, to cover up his scars. He has a very cool specificity. It’s fun to unpack a lot of Karin’s choices over time.”
Casting didn’t follow Slaughter’s character description of tall and blonde. Rodriguez is neither. But that didn’t matter, said Slaughter, who is also an executive producer.
“Ramon is really mesmerizing on screen and he really gets the character,” Slaughter said. “Even though he isn’t how I described him in the books, he is everything I’d want the character to be on the show. Ramon understands what motivates Will and what’s important to him.”
Will Trent, in fact, evokes a more serious, comparably clever and observant Adrian Monk, Tony Shalhoub’s popular detective on the USA series that aired from 2002 to 2009. (Heldens acknowledges Monk as a “touchstone.”)
Rodriguez, once cast, said he read all the “Will Trent” books and became obsessed with him: “I was just fascinated by what this guy had been through, how he found his way to the GBI and built up the department’s highest clearance rate. His spirit and resilience blew me away.”
The series starts with Trent first adopting a cute dog Betty, which humanizes him, then investigating a murder. At the murder scene, he awkwardly interacts with Atlanta Police Department officers who are angry with him because he had just implicated some cops in a corruption scandal.
Trent is “sometimes off putting,” Rodriguez said, " but he also has a pretty thick skin. Nothing gets to him. He can walk through a crime scene where all the cops are hating him and still get the job done.”
His supportive boss Amanda (Sonja Sohn) forces Trent to partner with cop Faith Mitchell (Iantha Richardson), whose mom was one of those cops sent away for said scandal. Naturally, the tension between Mitchell and Trent is palpable in the early going.
His closest confidante is Atlanta Police Department cop Angie, played by Erika Christensen (”Parenthood,” “Traffic”). They were in the same group home in foster care, experiencing similar traumas with various foster parents. Over the years, they sometimes get intimate. When Trent asks her on a date in the second episode, she cracks: “We don’t date. We scurry in the shadows and wallow in shame.”
Angie starts the show sober but struggled with drug addiction in the past. Slaughter said she is relationship avoidant: “She’s more comfortable when someone is working against her. She always goes back to Will when the chips are down.”
Heldens said the pair are “soulmates and terrible for each other at the same time.”
“Will Trent” is very much an Atlanta show and a horrid traffic jam in the first episode feels painfully realistic. A future episode will explore the history of Lake Lanier and the fact it was once the thriving Black community Oscarville that was eventually covered by water when the Buford Dam was built in the 1950s.
Heldens is the reason the show is even happening. She said she discovered Slaughter in her Kindle feed and quickly became addicted. “Her books are page turners,” she said. “I loved them.” So she and Daniel Thomsen (who she worked with on Fox’s short-lived “The Passage” in Atlanta in 2019) optioned the books and turned it into a viable project for ABC.
Slaughter is already a major literary star herself. Over 20-plus years, she has written more than 20 books, selling more than 40 million copies. She has joined the pantheon of crime/thriller authors who have become brand names, including Tess Gerritsen (”Rizzoli & Isles”), Patricia Cornwell and Lisa Jackson.
The past year has been a good one for Slaughter in terms of getting her works on TV. Netflix earlier in 2022 aired “Pieces of Her,” a limited series starring Toni Collette based on her best-selling book of the same name. That was the first time one of her books had made it on screen. And now she has an ABC series to boot.
“Karen is a phenomenal writer,” Thomsen said. “She writes visually and a lot of the twists we can use. The only bummer is her cases are novel length with so many great beats in them. We’re not able to use them all.”
WHERE TO WATCH
10 p.m. Tuesdays, starting Jan. 3 on ABC, available next day on Hulu