Welcome to the US-Mexico Border. Do you have anything to declare?
How about a whole boot full of contraband drama!
The show that Universal TV (DStv channel 117) is smuggling onto our screens this May is Coyote, a new drama starring Michael Chiklis (LAPD Detective Vic Mackey in epic police drama The Shield) as retired border patrol agent Ben Clemens.
Coyote blends the noir detective and Western genres as Ben gets his eyes opened to the struggles of the people he has spent his life chasing and persecuting. Through a twist of fate, he himself become a Coyote – slang for a cunning, opportunistic and wily survivor who specialises in smuggling people across the border, whether they’re fleeing death squads and persecution in Mexico, looking for a better shot at life, or being abused and trafficked into slavery.
The series is created and co-produced by David Graziano (co-executive producer of Southland, Lie To Me, American Gods and Jack Ryan) and Michelle MacLaren (director and executive producer of Breaking Bad and Night Stalker).
Coyote’s starting point was a pilot script that screenwriting partners Josh Gilbert and Michael Carnes brought to Michelle. “What I really loved about it was an opportunity to tell a story that starts a conversation. We wanted to do something that potentially opens people's eyes to realising – as Ben Clemens realises – that the world is not black and white. It's grey,” says Michelle. “This character [Ben] thinks he's always doing the right thing. He's been in law enforcement his whole career, always thinks he's a good, upstanding guy. Now, he's going to find out that's not necessarily the case. He's finding out who he really is and who he has been.”
She brought David onboard and he saw the series along similar lines, wanting to tell a story about “a guy who has been very closed-minded his whole life, professionally callused, and completely unaware of the ways he has been corrupted by the institution he works for. I wanted to watch that all melt away over time because of experiences with another culture – a culture he used to [work to] keep out of the country,” says David.
While from the actor’s side, Michael adds, “It's really interesting to see a 50-something-year-old white guy from the United States – who has looked at the world through a particular prism – have all of his choices taken away. This is a good man who has made horrible mistakes, and is basically trying to rewrite his own epitaph. He's trying to salvage his life.”
Old dog, new tricks
Ben is the kind of guy who wears dark glasses in family photos, and he has the emotional range of a brick thrown through your window. The series opens on his last day of work, his final big bust for Border Patrol, and his first day of retirement after 32 years on the job. It’s like seeing a big, snarling guard dog getting stripped of its collar and being told to shoo.
But when his late partner's young widow turns to him for help, Ben suddenly has a massive retirement project on his hands – completing the cabin that his partner (just barely) started constructing across the border in Mexico before the bank drops the entire family in the soup.
Now instead of shoving everyone Mexican into 2 handy categories – legal (but suspect) and illegal – Ben is thrust into a border town where he needs the co-operation of people that he’s used to having absolute authority over. He’s the one who stands out as a stranger thanks to his face. He’s the one whose intentions seem suspicious. And he’s the one that local cops are pausing at and checking over, while everyone stares at him with barely concealed hostility.
Despite working the border for 32 years, Ben speaks no Spanish, and has little to no grasp of the dangerous political forces at work in both the US and in Mexico that drive the action around the border itself. So when a young sex trafficking victim turns to him for help, Ben unwillingly becomes ensnared in a tug of war between a powerful drug cartel, the US border police, and his attempt to keep his promise to his late partner’s widow.
To survive, this old guard dog finds himself forced to become a Coyote, exploiting his knowledge of the border and all the tricks, both legal and illegal, that people have used to cross it throughout his career. And he finally learns, first-hand, the lengths that people will go to when they’re confronted with real life-or-death decisions.
“Everything in life is a learning experience and until you’re exposed to things, you have no idea. And you could chastise yourself over that or you could learn and grow and go, ‘Hey, I had no clue what was happening here,’” says Michael.
Watch Coyote S1 from Monday, 17 May on Universal TV (DStv channel 117) at 20:00 and on Catch Up.
Universal TV (DStv channel 117) is available on DStv Premium, Compact Plus, Compact and Family. To upgrade your package or to get DStv, click here.
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