Shanola Hampton on the new NBC drama “Found” plays Gabi Mosely, a PR specialist that seems to be a kissing cousin of Olivia Pope of “Scandal” fame.
Gabi is savvy, aggressive, authoritative and seems to be on the side of the angels by helping find missing children who are not white and wealthy. She has a quirky team funded by a wealthy benefactor to suss out the bad guys. But she also harbors some dark secrets, including a whopper by the end of the first episode airing Tuesday at 10 p.m. that was revealed in the trailers.
Hampton, who spent 11 seasons on Showtime dramedy “Shameless,” sees similarities between Gabi and Kerry Washington’s Olivia Pope. “It would be fun to see Gabby and Olivia working together,” she said In an interview on set in Atlanta in February. (The first season of “Found,” which was given at least 13 episodes, completed production before the writers and actors strikes. Actors currently are not allowed to promote new scripted shows.)
Hampton’s Gabi is no nonsense, the type of character who tells police captain Tony in the pilot that she will make his life a living hell and scuttle his political ambitions if he doesn’t convince the daughter of a senator to help her find a missing girl.
“Did you just threaten me?” Tony asks.
“That’s not a threat, Tony,” Gabi says, looking him straight in the eye. “It’s a promise!”
There are foreboding flashbacks featuring Mark-Paul Gosselaar as Gabi’s childhood kidnapper and tormenter, explaining why she is the way she is. This is Gosselaar at his darkest, a confident, intelligent man who has serious control issues. His character doesn’t immediately have a name. Rather, he goes by Sir.
“The script was a fresh take on a procedural,” said Gosselaar, who broke it big more than 30 years ago on “Saved by the Bell” and most recently shot Fox’s “Passage” in Atlanta. “Specifically my character was definitely a twist. I was drawn to that. This is a character I haven’t played. It’s very psychological and intimate in its challenges.”
Indeed, Gabi has reversed roles and now keeps Sir secretly tied up in a basement and uses his insights to help solve cases, similar to how Clarice used Hannibal Lecter.
Credit: Matt Miller/NBC
Credit: Matt Miller/NBC
Despite the seriousness of her character, Hampton kept things loose on set, several of the other actors said.
Hampton interrupted an interview Gosselaar was having with press in late February by unexpectedly jumping in his lap and teasing him about his beardless face. (He wore a beard for at least part of the season but shaved it off because he was finished for the season and had only come to set to speak to media.)
“I have never worked with this guy,” Hampton joked before running off.
Nkechi Okoro Carroll, who has also created two well-regarded CW shows “All American” and the spinoff “All American: Homecoming,” said the idea of “Found” was inspired by a moment in 2017 when social media glommed onto news that a dozen Black and Latino children had gone missing in the D.C. area over a span of a few days, a development that hadn’t garnered much attention in traditional media. “It took a grassroots viral effort,” she said. “That bothered me.”
Okoro Carroll learned in her research how important public relations can be in keeping a missing persons case in the news. And that’s how she created Gabi’s PR firm.
“Marginalized missing children deserve time in the spotlight,” Okoro Carroll said. “We need to hunt for them as aggressively as Natalie Holloway or Gabby Petito. When I tried to think of the name of any missing indigenous girl, I was embarrassed I couldn’t. I want to change that.”
After Okoro Carroll wrote the pilot, she did discover the Black and Missing Foundation, a real-life nonprofit group that does much of what Gabi’s group does in “Found.” “They had a lot of great research and material,” she said.
But the episodes in “Found” do not reflect real cases.
“It’s not ripped from the headlines,” Okoro Carroll said. “It’s ripped from my crazy brain.”
Okoro Carroll said Gabi’s actions clearly show a person who has not grappled with her childhood trauma in entirely healthy ways. “What if your hero is also an anti-hero?” she said. “How often to Black women get to be that? They are either superwomen or victims. It doesn’t all have to be the hero movie or that they survived slavery. They can be complicated.”
She wants ”Found” to be both entertaining and have an impact in the real world. “I put so much heart and soul in the scripts I write,” she said. “My poor editors. Literally on all three shows I do, they put a box of tissues on the couch because they know I’m going to sit there and cry like I didn’t write the episode.”
Early reviews so far have been mixed.
The A.V. Club’s Max Gao said Gabi’s entrapment of Sir “helps to elevate ‘Found’ beyond the standard, case-of-the-week format into a compelling character study of how differently people heal (or don’t) from traumatic, life-changing events.” He also said it’s vastly better than Fox’s similar “Alert: Missing Persons Unit” which debuted earlier this year.
Brian Tallerico of Roger Ebert’s review site, on the other hand, calls “Found” “a show so dense with overheated dialogue and character choices that it verges on parody.”
Rodney Ho writes about entertainment for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution including TV, radio, film, comedy and all things in between. A native New Yorker, he has covered education at The Virginian-Pilot, small business for The Wall Street Journal and a host of beats at the AJC over 20-plus years. He loves tennis, pop culture & seeing live events.