It's not always easy to convince people to watch a new series, but Almost Paradise is one you will want to check out.
Created by Dean Devlin with the series star, Christain Kane, in mind from the start, Almost Paradise is a return to original scripted television for WGN America.
The series is thrilling, humorous, and a whole lot of fun at a time when we need escapist entertainment more than ever.
If you're a fan of Devlin's earlier work (and who isn't?), then you know what you're in for with Almost Paradise.
If Devlin's name doesn't immediately invoke a happy place for you, then you should know he's created the feature film Independence Day (with Roland Emmerich) and successful TV series Leverage and The Librarians (both of which starred Kane), among other projects.
You will get transported someplace you have never experienced on television before as Almost Paradise is the first US scripted television show ever produced and filmed in the Philippines.
The best news about this premiere is that you're guaranteed to see the full season. It was finished shooting when Devlin and his crew left the Philippines, and they have all of the post-production tools necessary to finish the job.
We had a chance to chat with Devlin about Almost Paradise from its inception to fleeing the island before the airport closed and a whole lot more.
It's nice to meet you over the phone.
Nice to meet you. I hope you're staying safe, and you're healthy.
Yes, yes. So far, so good. Crazy times, aren't they?
We're living in the Andromeda Strain.
Oh my gosh. We are. It's like I keep telling my assistant editor, it's like we're in a movie. We need to write one.
Exactly. Although, I officially want an apology from every critic who said my movies weren't realistic when the scientist said, "Listen to me or the world will end." And the politician said, "No, no, it's not so bad."
Yeah. Well, you're winning this round. You win. What have you been doing to stay safe during this time?
Well, we're still working, but we're all working from home. Luckily, the way our company has worked out, I was able to send all of the editing equipment home with each editor, and we're using video conferencing tools. So we're continuing to work, although each of us in isolation.
And how much of the series did you have filmed at the time that this all went down? I did see online that people had left the Philippines and gone back to their respective homes.
It was the craziest thing. We finished the season 18 hours before they closed the airport. I literally called wrap, sent everybody home to pack their bags, and then we all went to the airport. It was nuts.
Wow. So you can do all the post editing from home?
Yeah. It was weird. It was a little bit like being on top of that building in Saigon, waiting for the last helicopter at the end of the Vietnam War. But yeah, we got it all. And we're posting it.
We've found wonderful tools that we can record ADR with our iPhones. And we're making do, but we will deliver the entire season.
It's so interesting, because you said that you found tools that you can use. It seems like this is the kind of time where innovation takes place.
Absolutely. One of the things that we've always prided ourselves at Electric is that we always had software-based tools instead of hardware-based tools.
And now that's really paying off for us because we can just send the software home with people, and the results are pretty damn good. We're very pleased.
Oh, that's good. And at this time, when other programs are shutting down their seasons before they even have finales, it will be very helpful for fans who want to watch this to know they're going to get a full season before it even starts.
Yeah. Unfortunately, like our other show, The Outpost, we had to shut that down halfway through it. We're still hoping we can get back into production before it's too late.
But it's heartbreaking when you have to stop in the middle. So we're super grateful that Almost Paradise was able to get everything shot.
Where do you film The Outpost?
Oh, wow. You are just all over the place.
Yeah. She shut everything down. She said at least four weeks. We're hoping that we can get back up in a few weeks, but only time will tell how the virus does. So we'll see.
Wow, that's absolutely crazy. You know what? I watched the first two episodes of Almost Paradise, and I really liked it.
It has that feel of ... and I hope you don't take this as a negative, the syndicated series that proliferated in the 1990s that were shot in exotic locations and had a lot of thrills and humor, and that's the feel that I get from Almost Paradise. It's just fun.
It's meant to be a throwback show, but in a brand new environment. In other words, I knew that I was taking the audience to a place they've never been before, a culture they'd never seen before, people they've never seen before.
So I wanted the show itself to be a kind of comfortable old shoe. This is somewhere a mix between Rockford Files and Magnum PI. I feel like this is a fun show. It's a comfortable show.
It's filled with action and humor and pathos, but it's taking place in a world that the audience has never seen before. This is actually the very first scripted television series ever to be done in the Philippines.
Oh, you're kidding. Wow, that's really special.
Yeah. We feel very fortunate that we get to be the first to expose the world to a lot of the things and visuals of the Philippines.
And because I'm half Filipino, it has a special meaning to me because this is the first time in my career that I've ever been able to work on things that have to do with my own culture.
And did you grow up there, or do you have family there?
I still have family there, but I grew up in the United States. My mother and her family came out right after World War II. I had only been to the Philippines myself three times.
So the opportunity to go there and shoot this was kind of a coming home, that was oddly emotional and connecting me with parts of my family that I'd never seen before.
There's a lot of meaning in the show they go for me personally, and it's been interesting watching the reactions of Filipino Americans to the show. Because the average American, if you were to say to them, this is the Philippines, the only thing they know of the Philippines is Imelda Marcos's shoes and Manny Pacquiao.
So to be able to show these beautiful resorts that are there, or the gorgeous traditions there, or the exotic foods they eat. It's almost like doing Independence Day or Stargate again, in that I'm taking the audience to a world they've never seen before.
And you filmed it beautifully. It's a very pretty show to watch.
And it's a Filipino DP, a Filipino production designer. Our crew was about 95% Filipino. Our cast was about 80% Filipino. It's really a tribute, not just of showing the Philippines, but showcasing some of the amazing talent that's been nurtured and grown there.
Had the family that you have there ... were they familiar with your career? What's it been like reconnecting with them and bringing something so special to the island?
Connecting to my roots in this way has been oddly emotional. My mother passed away about ... well, geez, almost 20 years ago now.
And to not have her in my life, but then suddenly connect to where she grew up and where she was from, there's something of a homecoming, and a feeling of pride that I get to show things that people haven't seen before.
We're living in a time where there's an enormous amount of diversity coming into our entertainment, which is fantastic, but somehow the Filipinos had been left behind in this. And so to be part of cracking that door open has enormous meaning.
And what main characters from the cast are Filipino?
Everybody except for Christian.
Everybody on the cast else besides him. Now, the guest stars vary. Sometimes we got some guest stars from Australia and stuff, but all the regular cast and most of the guest cast is Filipino.
Well, the cast, I really like the cast. What's the ... Arthur? What's his name? He is just adorable.
Acuña. We were really fortunate, because very early on in the process, Christian Kane and I flew to the Philippines and we held auditions in Manila.
We were not only able to see where the best talent was, but we were also able to have them read with Christian, so we could get the chemistry and see how they bounce off each other.
Christian is an actor who will improvise, and he's very funny, and not everyone could go toe to toe with him. We were so pleased when we got there and saw A, the level of talent, but also how well they matched with him. So we were able to get our cast pretty early.
I think pretty much from the very beginning of the pilot, everybody clicks. There isn't any of that awkward getting to know you kind of thing going on. It all feels so natural.
And honestly, it gets better every episode, because after we introduce the characters, they're able to light the fires between them, and that fire just grows per episode. And it gets more and more fun to watch them with each other.
So how did you come up with the idea for Almost Paradise?
Originally, and this is many years ago, it was on my honeymoon. We were honeymooning in Hawaii, and I had the local news on, and there was a story about how the local people in this one neighborhood took it upon themselves to catch these drug dealers, because they felt the police weren't working fast enough.
And it got me thinking about island justice and island morality, and island spirituality, and island healing.
The more I thought about it, I thought I'd really love to do a show that took place on a Pacific island. And then, as I was developing the show, it occurred to me, why make it Hawaii? Why, why not make it the Philippines? And show something that no one's ever seen before.
And the minute we made that decision, everything accelerated, because suddenly the show became fresher and more interesting, and my passion for making it grew.
But the irony is when I originally came up with the idea, well over 10 years ago, I actually talked to Christian Kane about it, and I said, "I have this great idea for a show." I said, "Unfortunately you're too young to play the part, but I'm thinking about you as I write this."
Well, as time played out, by the time I was actually able to make it, he aged right into the right age for the character.
That's perfect. And you guys have worked so well together in the past. What is it about you two that clicks?
Well, this is our third series together, and I love writing for Christian. I feel like a good coach with a great player. I know his strengths.
I know how to push him to make him go farther than he's gone before. We've now done I think something like 120 episodes or 130 episodes of television together. So there's a shortcut language.
But there was another aspect of Christian, that you won't see on screen, that was incredibly vital, which is, we were making this in the Philippines with a cast and a crew that has never done anything remotely like this before.
They don't make television like this in the Philippines. And as I said, this was the first international show ever done in the Philippines.
So Christian was not only acting in it, and doing fight scenes, and his own stunts, but he was mentoring the crew and the other actors in how to do a show like this. None of them had ever experienced anything like this before.
So he had to talk to them about the way production works in a television series, the way actors need to work together. How they needed to show up knowing their lines. That they couldn't be trying to learn their lines on set. Everything from top to bottom.
And he was so patient, and he was so giving and generous with everyone, that the show is what it is largely because of Christian. That's an aspect that I knew he had, and not all actors have. And we needed that for a show that was going to be breaking ground like this.
So he really stepped up for the leadership role?
My gosh. It was so beautiful to watch. And his empathy, his willingness to not always have to be the center of attention. Christian really checked his ego aside, and he just made this such a beautiful experience for everyone involved. And it's why we all can't wait to get a second season.
You said that whenever you originally thought about this role, you thought about him. What is it about him and Alex Walker? What do they share?
Well, the thing is, I wanted this character to be a very troubled character. An injured character. but a character who hides his injuries with his humor. And that's not easy to pull off. There are terrific comedic actors, but they're not so great with action and pathos.
There's great gritty actors, but they're not too great with comedy. To be able to find one actor who could do every aspect of this character, and find that perfect tone, I couldn't think of anyone other than Christian Kane, honestly, because it's clearly not a dark and edgy, grounded show, but it's also not a silly, farce show.
We always like to say we're about three and a half inches off the ground. And not everybody can find that spot, but Kane owns it.
And I have to ask, Alex is suffering from hypertension. I'm curious why you chose that route for him, and what kind of medical advice and stuff do you get as it pertains to Alex's increasingly daring activities during his supposed retirement?
Well I think everyone can relate to a certain degree of stress. Especially right now. What are the things that could happen in your life that would increase that stress? This is a character who's gone past that breaking point. He's gone past the point of his ability to function normally.
So he's decided he needs to go retire, and live a stress-free life. But what we thought would be fun is him learning and discovering that he spent so many years undercover, being other people, and being in life-threatening situations, that that's the only moment where he does feel relaxed.
But when he has to actually live like a normal person, or try to be who he is, he doesn't know how to do that. It's been too long since he's done it before. So having a gun pointed at him is actually a very relaxing moment for him.
Trying to get the television to work correctly or to get the faucets to run, that stresses him out to no end.
Did you film on an actual resort? It looks like you were right there in the thick of it.
We did. We shot this at the Shangri-La Mactan resort, which is a beautiful resort. And the people there were so generous to us and so giving, and in fact, Christian lived there for the entire season.
But we also had the doors open for all the resorts there. You'll see over the course of the show that some episodes are at different resorts, because there are so many. And that's kind of the fun of this show, is that this was an island that he had visited 20 years ago, that was a desolate beach.
And he's come back, now, thinking it's going to be that kind of area. But when he gets there, he finds 30 amazing resorts, filled with people and tourism and children and Jet Skis and beach balls, but also filled with some of the rich and famous criminals from around the world.
So the place he thought he could get away from it actually turns out to be a center of it.
And it was also cute that the one thing he bought, knowing that he would go there and have it already established, was the one place that was pretty much dilapidated. His little gift shop.
Exactly. In his mind, it was this adorable little gift shop with an apartment on the beach, that he could live there, peacefully. And now we find it's in the center of the busiest resort on the island.
Now that you have a feel for the cast and what they can do. And you mentioned you hope you get a second season. What kind of additions are you already thinking about? Casting additions, expanding?
Well, for instance, Samantha Richelle had never really acted before, so we didn't know how far we could push her. We didn't know, is there a ceiling? And I'm so happy to say there was no ceiling. Every time I would throw a more difficult episode at her, she rose to the occasion.
And you'll see as the season gets on, we did not make this an easy task for her. We gave her more and more and more challenging roles throughout the entire year, and she always rose to it.
Now that we know that all the local actors have no ceiling, I think that as we go into season two, where we're going to push the drama and where we're going to push the comedy is going to be much farther than what we did in season one.
What is her history? I didn't even realize that she had such a small resume, but she was another standout. All three of the leads stand out.
We always looked at this as heart, the soul, and the brain. That, in a way, Christian Kane's character is the brain, because he has so much knowledge and experience of having lived this kind of life for so many years, and deep, deep undercover.
We always looked at Samantha's character as the heart, because she's an idealist. She does this for all the right reasons. And she may not have the experience, and she may not have been given the opportunities that she's wanted yet, but she's there because she believes in this.
She believes she can really help people. She can make a difference in people's lives. And Art's character, Ernesto, he's kind of the soul. He's the soul of the show. He represents the wisdom of the island. He represents what's unique about this culture.
He sees himself more as a supporting person, that enables other people to be the best they can be. But as you saw in episode two, if you cross the line with him, he's a formidable force himself.
And does he have ... gosh, I don't know what kind of martial arts he was using. Does he have that background?
He has some. He has some. But in a way, Christian Kane talks about this a lot, the reason why Samantha and Art and he are so good at it is that we never view the fight scenes as fights. We always use them as a dance. And they all have expensive dance training.
If you're accustomed to understanding the rhythms of a dance, and the moves of a dance, and how you have to dance with the other person and not against the other person, then your ability to do fight scenes goes to a much higher level.
And we had an extraordinary stunt scene on the show. And I think these are some of the best fight scenes I've ever done on anything, television or features.
And who's your stunt coordinator?
He actually came from Australia, Rodney. And he had worked on the Lord of the Rings movies. He came in and he worked with an all Filipino stunt team, and he really, I think, took them to a whole other level.
This is so interesting. I think it's just amazing that you were able to do this, walk into a new country, and make something that feels so authentic. It really does.
Honestly, in all candor, the show exceeded our expectations. We were hoping that we could really do something special. And then when Christian and I saw the first cut of the first episode, we were kind of like, "Wow, this is way better than we thought it was going to be."
Each episode, again, kept raising that bar. We have a lot of pride about the show. We really hope people will discover it, and I think they're going to really like it. Because it has a good heart. It's a lot of fun.
And different kinds of shows do different things for us. Some educate us. Some bring us art in a way that we hadn't seen before. But sometimes real fun, escapist entertainment is just what you need. And I would argue that right now, we need escapist fun more than ever.
Oh, I agree. And it's been lacking, to be honest. I can't think of another show, and maybe that's why I enjoyed watching the episodes so much.
I said it reminds me of things that I used to really enjoy. I used to make sure I recorded them, just because they made me so happy. And this show has that same feeling.
Well, it's funny, because I was in a conversation with some executives a few months ago, and they were talking about edgy shows, and how that's what they were interested in, was edgy shows.
And I had to remind them that's the reason we coined that phrase was because it was on the edge of entertainment. In other words, no one else was doing it. You were pushing the boundaries. You were doing something that was unlike every other show.
I said, "Well, now, everybody's doing dark and edgy. Therefore it's not edgy. It's mainstream."
This show is actually edgy. I believe in a full menu. Sometimes you want to go out and have that incredible French dinner, but sometimes you want to have a hot dog. And I think you need have to have all the offerings.
And right now, really good hot dogs have been in low supply. So we're hoping that we're going to bring them.
And how does it end up on WGN America?
It's a funny story. WGN had kind given up on doing originals. At the time we originally talked to them, they said that they weren't really interested in doing an original. And I said, "Well, the originals you did were very much in the model of the streaming services."
I said, "But you guys aren't a streaming service. You guys are much more like what TNT was when we first came there." I said, "I think I've got the right time to show for your audience, and for what you're doing."
And at that time, they had a lot of people working for them who had actually been at TNT when we did Leverage.
So the moment in which we connected with WGN, it was kind of perfect timing, of where they were at that moment and where we were trying to go.
Yeah. I think it's going to be a good fit.
Yeah, fingers crossed. If you could sum up Almost Paradise in three words, what would they be?
Fun, excitement, and fun.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.