There is no one type of relationship between a father and a daughter. It can also change considerably over the course of both of their lives, as they age and mature and their circumstances no longer look like they once did. It’s possible that an absent parent will in turn need to be taken care of by their adult child years later, be it for medical reasons or a lack of financial stability. UnPrisoned presents a humorous codependent scenario where two people who are connected only by their blood relationship to each other must learn how to coexist together for the first time in years.
Paige (Kerry Washington) is a relationship therapist and single mother to teenage son Finn (Faly Rakotohavana) whose life is constantly in flux. When her father Edwin (Delroy Lindo) is released from prison, a familiar pattern begins to emerge: he swears this time is going to be different. Yet when his case worker Mal (Marque Richardson) suggests that Edwin would be best suited for success if he moved in with Paige and Finn, Paige is forced to accept that having him close to her may in fact be the only way to make his lifelong resolution actually come true.
UnPrisoned comes from creator Tracy McMillan, whose previous credits include Mad Men and Life on Mars, and whose life serves as the inspiration for this series. The show highlights the experience of those who must start over after being released from prison and the staggering numbers of Americans who either are or have been incarcerated. The series comes from Onyx Collective, a content brand seeking to showcase underrepresented voices which recently produced Reasonable Doubt and the excellent Hulu film Bruiser, both also for Hulu.
At the heart of UnPrisoned are two terrific actors who are perfectly matched for one another. Washington is a powerhouse well known for Scandal and Little Fires Everywhere, and this role allows her to indulge in a more comedic sensibility, one that proves to be a terrific fit. It’s especially fun to watch Paige record live-streams that go awry and contend with the stresses of having her father around to comment on everything she does. Lindo, a series regular on The Good Fight, brings a superb blend of style, wit, and seriousness to his portrayal of Edwin, whose outlook on his new life is very much worth appreciating and enjoying.
Though there is a dramatic undercurrent to this show’s premise, it is defined by its comedy. Among its best assets is young actress Jordyn McIntosh, credited as Little Paige, who steps in to replace Washington in various scenes where she reverts back to her younger self. Best described as a firecracker, McIntosh is full of energy and deeply precocious, and it’s a delight to watch her fill in for the similarly spirited Washington. Rakotohavana is also talented, conveying the complexity of Finn’s relationship with the grandfather he’s never known and the mother who’s done everything for him but still made mistakes along the way. Richardson enhances Mal and gives him a story of his own that deserves its separate focus.
Broken up into eight half-hour episodes, all of which premiere at the same time on Hulu, this show knows how to keep its pacing quick and light. It’s easy to become involved with its characters and follow their journeys, and the stakes remain just low enough for it to continue to be entertaining even as livelihoods appear to be in jeopardy. The concept of a post-prison fractured relationship is hardly revolutionary, but this show has found the right balance and approach to make it feel fresh and to draw audiences in as soon as they meet its winning characters.
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All eight episodes of UnPrisoned premiere on Friday, March 10th on Hulu.