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In David E. Kelley's new crime drama 'The Calling,' a cop solves cases with compassion

Spirit of law

Being told that you are about to watch a crime procedural unlike any you have seen before would elicit doubts from just about anyone. But if there’s a man who could subvert the well-worn genre, it’s David E. Kelley, the prolific television producer who has taken on the legal system from various angles since he landed a job at L.A. Law in 1986. Following in the footsteps of Picket Fences, The Practice, Ally McBeal and Boston Legal is The Calling, a show about a New York City police detective whose intuition provides him with a special knack for solving cases.  

The CallingShowcaseIsraeli actor Jeff Wilbusch, best known as the steadfast cousin of the jilted groom in Netflix miniseries Unorthodox, portrays Detective Avraham, whose strong Jewish faith often plays a part in how he conducts his police work. “I haven’t seen it in a cop show, true empathy and being invested emotionally, respecting each and every one and trying to understand why and see the good in people,” says Wilbusch. “This is what Avraham’s faith in humanity is, and what makes him solve these inhumane crimes.”  

Like film and TV cops before him, Avraham has a tendency to bend the rules. But unlike the Dirty Harrys and Vic Mackeys of the world, his vigilantism features demonstrably less gun-slinging. “It’s a unique way of not playing by the rules because it comes from empathy and deep care and emotionally being immersed in something and less of a sense of revenge or getting the bad guys,” Wilbusch explains.  

The CallingShowcaseAfter playing Kendall Roy’s executive assistant in Succession for three seasons, Juliana Canfield transitions into TV law enforcement as Detective Janine Harris, the newcomer who wants to learn from Avraham and asks to be his partner. “Janine’s very new, quite ambitious and idealistic, but she’s by-the-book because that’s all she knows,” says Canfield. “Janine sees Avi’s fluency in the language of reading human behaviour and wants to have even a smidge of it. But at the same time, Avi’s genius can send him down very long, winding and dark tunnels and he can lose his grip on reality—or his sense of compassion can make him blind to things that might be staring him right in the face. So, Janine also serves to tether him to a sense of reality.” 

In adapting Dror A. Mishani’s crime novels, exec producer Matthew Tinker had jitters about what they were embarking on. “Avraham, as a character, is someone wholly unique in who he was and what he wanted, and it was a character that we had never written before. Those are the types of characters that excite you and scare you a little bit,” he says. “It was someone we felt we would want to spend time with. We’ve all gone through a crazy last couple years, and want to sit down and be entertained—but also comforted in a way and given some hope.” 

The CallingShowcaseCanfield believes the unique ethos of the lead character is something that is also reflected throughout the rest of the series. “Avi’s approach is unusual, humanistic, observational, almost meditative,” the actress muses. “I think that the show takes a cue from his approach and looks at each character’s nuances.” The show is not quick to label someone a villain or a hero, either. “All of the characters have unusual shades of grey that are woven into the fabric of the story,” she adds. “To watch richly drawn characters solve mysteries together makes for something quite novel within the genre.” 

Further elevating The Calling from the shows that came before are Academy Award-winning director Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Sleepers) and composer Hans Zimmer (The Lion King, Gladiator, Dune). “Barry had a vision right away. He’s a chameleon, so he really took a unique approach to this show in that the borough of Brooklyn very much feels alive, but Avraham at the same time has quiet moments that don’t lose their propulsion somehow. It’s a testament to Barry’s framing of things and the pacing of the show. It doesn’t hurt you either, when the score is done by someone like Hans,” says Tinker.  

While the talent both in front of and behind the scenes promise Hollywood-like quality, Tinker hopes viewers will stay for the shades of grey. “We know there’s a responsibility not to just put a shiny, glossy film over this,” he says. “All our actors feel like their characters are human. We don’t have to like everybody, but at the same time, we have to be able to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, and we can be OK not liking that either, at the end of the day. But I don’t want to shy away from that. I want to be able to criticize and to tackle issues that are a little messy at the end of the day.”

The Calling airs Mondays on Showcase