BY RICK BENTLEY
TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE
LOS ANGELES – “L.A.’s Finest” is the name of the new cop series on Spectrum’s on-demand service, but it could also be a way to describe the show’s stars, Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba. Both have piled up long lists of much-heralded acting credits and will bring that background to the series, which is a spinoff of the “Bad Boys” film franchise.
The hourlong series follows Syd Burnett (Union), who was last seen in 2003’s “Bad Boys II” working as an undercover agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Miami.
She opts to leave her complicated past behind to become an LAPD detective and gets paired with a new partner, Nancy McKenna (Alba), a working mom who has her own set of problems. The partners bring very different styles to the job.
Chemistry to play police partners was easy for Union and Alba, who are also executive producers, because they have known each other for years.
Their familiarity was one reason Union pushed Alba so hard to make a return to a starring role in a television series like the one she had in “Dark Angel” from 2000 to 2002. Alba had been taking a break from acting and waiting for the right project to come along.
“I’ve been acting since I was 12, and I just took a break when I had my first daughter,” Alba says. “After I had my third kid and a business that I had been working on for seven years, I get a call from Gabrielle Union, this beautiful actress that I respected for a long time, that I thought was super cool, and she really courted me. It’s hard to say no to her. It felt really modern to tell this story of this friendship and this partnership of two women in a modern time, in a modern world.”
LOT OF IMPROVISING
Union says the connection was something the writers added with each episode. She adds, “In the pilot, I don’t think they got that we had already been doing this at Hollywood parties for years. By the time we were in the middle of shooting the first episode, there would be new script pages with more jokes because they picked up on the jokes we tell.”
Alba recalls she and Union did a lot of improvising while shooting the first episode where they would rip on each other. They were able to add more as the show shifted from being produced for NBC and then eventually landed on Spectrum.
“With the network, they wanted me to be this perfect mom and wife. She had to be the uptight one while Gab’s character would be the rebellious one,” Alba says. “It was always trying to work inside these boundaries and walls while in real life, people are a lot more fluid. People tend to bleed in and out of their character depending on the situation.”
Alba and Union got excited when the show shifted to Spectrum because so many of the top executives with the company are women. The immediate feedback was they should not follow past drama models because women aren’t just one way.
Both “L.A.’s Finest” stars have shown that through their past work.
Union’s previous work includes the cable series “Being Mary Jane,” the animated offering “The Lion Guard” and “Flashforward.” Her film credits include “The Public,” “The Birth of a Nation” and “The Honeymooners.” Alba’s appeared in films from “Honey” to the “Fantastic Four” to “Sin City.”
“L.A.’s Finest” is the first time Alba has been the executive producer on a series and the second time for Union (after “Being Mary Jane”). Both find the job better because they have a say in how the series is put together instead of just having to stand on the sidelines.
While Alba might not have had a lot of say on the set, she has certainly been in charge with her own businesses in recent years. In 2012, Alba and her business partner Christopher Gavigan started The Honest Company, a collection of household goods and body care products.
Three years later, she launched a collection of skin care and beauty products called Honest Beauty.
The pair have been able through their executive producer roles to make sure that “L.A.’s Finest” is telling the best and most entertaining stories.
The one thing that no title has been able to help with is the action sequences. Both have had action roles in the past that required stunt work but as they have aged, they find the process a little tougher. Alba laughs and says it’s a real killer if she has to be on one knee for a long time.
The first three episodes of the 13 ordered for the initial season will be exclusively available to Spectrum video subscribers free On Demand (and without ads) starting Monday. New episodes will be released each Monday until the finale.