What would you do if you were forced to make a choice between protecting your family and doing the right thing? Could you make that tough decision? In UP’s first original scripted drama series, “Ties That Bind,” Allison McLean (played by Kelli Williams of “The Practice” and “Army Wives”) must do just that. After sending her own brother off to prison, the police detective then needs to figure out the best way to care for his children who want nothing to do with her. And that all happens within the first few minutes of the intensely emotional Wednesday night (9 p.m. E.T.) premiere.
“I have three kids, so I can completely identify with my character,” Kelli Williams told Examiner in a recent interview. “It is so fantastic and your home is so full of life when you have teenagers, but at the same time, it can be so draining because they are teenagers and they are doing what teenagers are supposed to be doing.”
In the series, Williams plays Police Detective Allison McLean. The pilot opens in a courtroom with her brother, Timothy Olson (played by Luke Perry), being sentenced to two years in prison for the crime of aggravated assault with special circumstances. His teenage son, Cameron (played by Rhys Matthew Bond), immediately rebels and causes a tense scene in the courtroom as his father is taken away. Cameron fully blames his aunt for his father’s situation and violently protests when told that he, along with his sister, Mariah (played by Matreya Scarrwener), will temporarily be placed under her care. Allison and her husband, Matt (played by Jonathan Scarfe), must try to protect and watch over her brother’s children who would rather be placed in foster care. To compound the already volatile emotional situation, her own children, Jeff (played by Mitchell Kummen) and Rachel (played by Natasha Calis), are furious for what they perceive as no longer coming first in their own family.
“As a parent, you’re trying to get them to not do too much, but also allow them the space they need to be a teenager,” Kelli continued. “When I read the script, I thoroughly understood the challenges my character would face when helping to raise her brother’s kids. I’ve always been a believer in ‘it takes a village.’ My best girlfriend’s kids lived with us for a little while and we had two families in the same house. It’s an interesting thing to try and parent a child who is not your own.”
“In the series, I am raising my brother’s kids and I don’t know them very well because we didn’t do a lot of family things together, so I am getting to know them now.”
Throughout the first episode, there are several intense moments that engage the viewer as a young man, who is unable to control his own destiny, lashes out on the people who care the most about him.
“This is UP’s first scripted series and they are excited about pushing the boundaries,” Williams offered. “It is still ‘uplifting entertainment,’ but the uplifting part comes after the work it takes to get there. UP is willing to look at it in much more of a three-dimensional way. Sometimes, it’s not so easy, but we try to persevere and push through and learn from our challenges. Because of that effort, we grow closer to each other.”
But “Ties That Bind” is more than a family drama, the tension is amplified by the backdrop of a police procedural. When Allison is not refereeing the battles at home, she is out trying to make the world a better place, one case at a time. Just as comedies have heart, this guns blazing, catch-the-bad-guy thriller has compassion. Refreshingly, it is not a “shoot first, ask questions later” type of drama. Instead, “Ties That Bind” utilizes understanding — what is driving this individual’s behavior and how can we reach them to stop them before they hurt themselves or someone else?
“I’ve got my gun, I’ve got my badge, and I’ve got my cop outfit,” Kelli acknowledged. But to truly understand her role of detective, Williams went on a ride along with twenty-four year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, Captain Lillian L. Carranza. Williams had a chance to experience first-hand what it really took to be the kind of a person her character is striving to be in the show.
“Allison is trying to not bring her work home with her. In that way, the show is about the stuff we all have to deal with. But sometimes, she can’t be a mom and she can’t be a wife, and she just has to leave those dishes in the sink. Also, she is trying not to think about her teenagers when she is investigating a crime. It’s messy and it’s complicated, but, in this day and age, that’s what life is. Most of the friends that I have, both partners are working and raising children at the same time. I know there is still the ‘traditional’ family where the mom stays at home, but in my world, I’ve always been a working mom and I like that you get to see that in this series. You do the best that you can do and then you try again the next day.”
The brilliance of balance in “Ties That Bind” is the result of the talents of the show’s creator, Sheryl J. Anderson (“Charmed”). She has taken a daunting array of elements and woven them all together into an intricate fabric of exquisite design. Allison’s cases mirror the conflicts going on under her own roof. The hard lessons she learns on the street fortify her parenting while the compassion she expresses at home carries over to her work. One life feeds the other.
“She is incredibly bright and she’s got a really great sense of humor!” Kelli responded when asked about Sheryl. “She’s incredibly approachable and I kind of look up to her. Obviously, she’s shaped who my character is and I think, in a way, there is a lot of Sheryl in Allison.”
UP TV’s “Ties That Bind” is a powerful new series that charges headlong into emotionally combustible situations. It boldly takes on real issues and concerns facing American families who are just desperately trying to hold it all together. Calling “Ties That Bind” a mere drama would be like referring to Shakespeare’s works as rough drafts. The intensity driven by personalities and situations makes this a series that you need to give a chance. Ultimately, you might find yourself leaving behind all of those formulaic network programs for something with real impact.
“Ties That Bind” premieres on UP Wednesday August 12 at 9 p.m. ET. For more information, visit the show’s website/Facebook/Twitter. For more information on Kelli Williams, visit her IMDb.