The new Hulu series, “UnPrisoned,” was inspired by executive producer and creator Tracy McMillan’s (“Mad Men,” Marvel’s “Runaways”) real-life story. That inspiration meant allowing some things to happen in the production that would have never occurred in real life.
The half-hour comedy examines the messy world of a relationship therapist and single mom (Kerry Washington) whose life is turned right-side-up when her dad (Delroy Lindo) gets out of prison and moves in with her and her teenage son, Finn (Faly Rakotohavana).
McMillan says, “I actually have two rules: don’t ask me for money and you can’t live with me. But in TV, I was like, you know, what would it have been like to have him coming to live with me?
“My goal in creating this show was really to shift hearts and minds around people who have been affected by mass incarceration. The families, the people involved, these are human beings like my family members. And I just knew that there was a story there that America was ready to hear.”
“UnPrisoned” launches March 10 on the streaming service. Washington and Lindo not only star in the series but both are executive producers.
Washington has been a huge fan of McMillan for years and has always found her life to be fascinating. She and McMillan were on the same page with what the series should say and do.
“What Tracy says is so true. We live in the shadow of the prison industrial complex in this country. And when you look at the numbers of people who go through that system, it’s so important that we think about these systems and how they impact personal lives, how they impact families,” Washington says. “And so, to me, to have the opportunity to take a lens and explore, what are these systems, these racist institutions?
“How do they impact the everyday lives of families? And can we do that in a way that’s fun and loving so that people don’t turn away? They’re willing to step deeper into the love that is able to survive these institutions? Not that I don’t think these institutions need to be dismantled, but in the face of that we live with them, how do we love each other boldly and beautifully? And I think that’s what these characters get to do because of what these women have provided us.”
Washington comes to the series after a successful run as Olivia Pope in the ABC drama “Scandal.” The role earned her two primetime Emmy Award nominations and a Golden Globe nod. Other roles include “Confirmation,” “Little Fires Everywhere” and “Ray.”
She was so convinced that Lindo was the only actor for the role of the father that if he had not been available, there would be no “UnPrisoned.”
Lindo’s credits include “Malcolm X,” “Crooklyn,” “Gone in 60 Seconds” and “The Good Fight.”
He was convinced to take on the role because of how the series was pitched to him. The bottom line was the show would be as authentic as possible.
“The way that they communicated to me about how they wanted to approach this work was genuine, authentic and loving enough that it touched me and called me to say ‘Well, yeah, I’ll get on this ride.’ When one comes to work like this as authentically and as genuinely and on some level as raw as we have, it’s not all cookies and cream. You have to earn it,” Lindo says.
“The right to kind of be in it and to converse and to decide, ‘Okay. Well, no, this is not quite right. Can we try this?’ We’ve earned that together.”
One of the biggest areas of concern at being genuine is in the show’s setting of Minneapolis. McMillan was born and raised in Minnesota and had always wanted to bring the Midwestern perspective to a program.
Washington adds that there is something about placing a show in the heartland of this country that allows the team to really tap into that part of the soul of who we are.
It is a backdrop for a series that banks heavily on family stories from father-daughter to grandfather-grandson. Executive producer Yvette Lee Bowser sees “UnPrisoned” as an opportunity for Black writers to dig deep into these heavily emotional stories.
“There was a time when we as Black writers and storytellers were fighting merely for an opportunity to tell a story,” Bowser says, “And now we’re finding ourselves in a period of time where we can go deeper, much, much deeper, and go, again, beyond, like, oh, she’s single and she’s looking for love.
“It’s like, why is she still single? Where did she come from? Who does she love? How does she love? Why is it that she struggles to love this young man who’s so sexy and ready?”