TCA Press Tour, Day 2: A&E

Well, I guess we now officially have a recurring theme within my postings, since this will be the third time I’ve made a comment approximating this one, but can anyone still remember when the majority of the programming on A&E still focused on arts over entertainment? It’s been quite some time, I think we can all agree…though I’m all ears if you’d like to try and defend “The Two Coreys” as art. But I’m trying to keep an open mind about A&E’s new dramatic series, “The Cleaner,” partially because I’ve liked Benjamin Bratt since his days in “Law & Order,” but mostly because I can’t help but be curious about a show which has been described as a cross between “Intervention” and “The Equalizer.”

Producer Jonathan Prince tackled one question right off the bat for those who’ve been annoyed by all the bleeps that have peppered the “Sopranos” reruns on A&E. “There will be no bleeping,” he assured us. “The battle…you guys as writers would love this, the battle of how many shits per script are allowed. You can have two shits, one bullshit, no horseshits, one ass, no asshole. And there’s a rule. It’s math, I think. It’s sort of, you know, in memory of George Carlin, we now know what you can and cannot say on A&E, and we are finding out along the way, but I think you would find that this is less sanitized than what happened to ‘The Sopranos.’ Our content never goes quite to that place.”

Well, now that we know that, what’s the show actually about? In a nutshell, it’s about a guy named William (played by Bratt) who transforms his life by taking control over his addictions and using his story to help others, but what I find particularly interesting about the show is the refusal to confirm or deny the existence of any higher power that might (or might not) be helping him along the way.

“This pact that William Banks has with whoever was listening on that day when he was at his bottom, he chooses to call it God,” said producer Robert Munic, “(but) it’s not a religious embodiment of that. It’s more of his belief system, his faith in whoever’s out there listening to him, because he doesn’t ever expect to get an answer back when he puts it out there.”

Prince elaborated on the situation by offering an on-set anecdote. “We had a director who said, ‘When Ben’s talking to God, I want to put the camera way above so we can see sort of God’s point of view.’ We said to the director, ‘You can’t do that.’ She asked, ‘Why not?’ We said, ‘Because we’re not sure God’s listening.'”

At this point, Bratt chimed in as well. “Part of the backstory we created for William Banks is that he more than likely didn’t grow up a particularly religious guy at all,” he explained. “In fact, probably quite the opposite. And so when he finally makes this pact with God, as Robert already mentions, it’s definitively out of desperation. So on some level, his ongoing serialized relationship with God as it unfolds over the course of the series is going to be contingent on how well he’s doing and how successful he is, not only in his chosen vocation now, but with his family. And so his faith will be continually questioned…not any deep faith, because it didn’t exist, but this newfound pact he has with whoever might be listening.”

Also in the cast of the show is Grace Park, who was unable to attend the panel due to her commitments on “Battlestar Galactica,” but the producers couldn’t say enough about her work on “The Cleaner”…as well as her work to get on the show in the first place.

“Grace was up in Vancouver, and she had read the script, and she put herself on tape…sort of grainy, not-so-well-shot, not so bueno…but the tape just lit up,” said Prince. “And we showed it to Ben and we all said, ‘That’s the girl.’ Then, afterwards we learned, ‘Oh, there’s a conflict. She’s on “Battlestar.”’ ‘Well, that’s okay.’ ‘She plays nine characters on “Battlestar.”’ ‘That’s not so okay.’ Like, when one robot she’s playing is available, the other robot’s working. So it’s been difficult. Our other actors are used to shooting on a certain schedule, but we have, like, ‘Grace Day.; And she comes down for 18 hours, 26 hours, and sort of flies away again like some angel.”

You may recognize a few other faces in the cast as well, including Liliana Mumy, daughter of Billy Mumy, of “Lost in Space” fame. (He was also a member of Barnes & Barnes, but I’m not sure if recording “Fish Heads” trumps playing Will Robinson or not.) Lilana said her dad only really gave her one piece of advice: “He always used to tell me, ‘Listen to the person when they are talking to you, never look in the camera, and just have fun.'”

Estaban Powell (“Bone Chillers,” “Level 9”) began to speak of his character’s flaws – “My sobriety is compromised, and it puts a strain on my dynamic in the whole team” – but after acknowledging that he wasn’t very good at tooting his own horn, he decided to toot someone else’s horn instead…uh, metaphorically, of course.

“I’m really fortunate that I have an incredible family to help support and a great network for giving us the opportunity,” Powell said. “You are going to like the show. I mean, I know Ben doesn’t like me tooting his horn, but whatever. I don’t care. You can look at me bad all you want, dude. This guy is awesome, and the whole team is phenomenal, and the show is a piece of work.”


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