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'Big Sky' is a Homecoming of Sorts for David E. Kelley
November 17, 2020  | By Mike Hughes  | 2 comments

David E. Kelley is finally back where he started – writing and producing for a broadcast network.

He did that for a quarter-century – from L.A. Law and Chicago Hope to Ally McBeal, The Practice and Boston Public. He was the master at crafting intelligent and entertaining TV over 42-minute stretches, plus commercials.

And then he left – until now. Big Sky (10 p.m. ET, Tuesdays on ABC) is Kelley's first broadcast network show since Harry's Law ended its two seasons eight years ago.

"I was not anxious to get back to the broadcast world for a lot of (reasons)," Kelley told the Television Critics Association (TCA) last month. "Mainly the commercials."

He certainly didn't need it. Kelley has thrived in the commercial-free worlds of HBO (Big Little LiesMonday Mornings, The Undoing) and streaming (Goliath, Mr. Mercedes).

But then the ABC people came to him. "They were really frisky to break their own mold," Kelley said, "and to present storytelling…that would be more in line with cable or streaming."

That means serialized stories that don't need to be resolved at the end of an hour. It also means an emphasis on complicated characters. In this case, they're in a novel by C.J. Box.

We meet two sisters on a lonely stretch of Montana highway. They're played by Jade Pettyjohn and Natalie Alyn Lind, who has been everywhere lately – The Goldbergs (as Dana), Tell Me a Story (as a scarred country-music star), and The Gifted (as a teen with superpowers). "Sometimes real life can be scarier than the elements that are created in the superpower Marvel world," she said.

We also meet a lonesome truck driver (Brian Geraghty) and his disapproving mom (Valerie Mahaffey).

Soon, there's a crisis, and we meet a cop, played – as usual – by John Carroll Lynch. "I can play any kind of cop you want," joked Lynch, still best known as a cop's spouse in the Fargo movie. "I can be a desk sergeant. I can be a detective. But this is the first time I've been on the highway patrol, and I'm super excited about that."

Also working the case is a private eye (Ryan Phillippe), his detective partner (Kylie Bunbury, who played the first female Major-Leaguer in Pitch), and his ex-wife (Katheryn Winnick, top, who starred in Vikings), an ex-cop. They provide "a crazy love triangle," Winnick said.

There are plenty of other areas for Kelley to play with, including the notion of feeling like an outsider. Bunbury talks about "the dynamics of being a biracial woman in a relatively White town…. In Montana, I think, it's .01 percent of people are of color."

Actually, it's a tad higher, but just a tad. The 2010 census put the Montana population at 0.4 percent Black or African-American – about 1 in 250. Then again, her hometown of Prior Lake, Minn., is only 1.5 percent. "I really do understand what it's like to be in very white spaces."

And everyone here feels like an outsider – including a belittled trucker, an ignored cop, and two sisters on a lonely stretch of nowhere.

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andrea rosen
excellent tension and lots of surprises. Seems like they will be burning through characters at a rapid rate. I like it!
Nov 18, 2020   |  Reply
mark isenberg
There are plot twists but it is David E. Kelley in Montana so watch it for great dialogues and the backgrounds. Amen. Thanks Mr. K. for coming back....
Nov 18, 2020   |  Reply
Kate Coddaire
and the music was keeping it exciting! And that ending......woah.
Nov 18, 2020
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