LOS ANGELES — Expanding a comic book's mythology can bring slighted characters to the forefront. That's also the case with "L.A.'s Finest," a TV series riff on the 2003 "Bad Boys II" movie in which women, notably women of color, are driving the action.
Gabrielle Union pursued the idea of reprising Syd Burnett, her character from the film who's on a new path as a Los Angeles police detective, with Jessica Alba joining her as detective Nancy McKenna. They're also in charge behind the camera, as executive producers on the series debuting Monday on the new Spectrum on-demand platform.
It's a measure, they say, of hard-won confidence in what they can do and in their value, despite entrenched resistance from the entertainment industry. Both are entrepreneurs outside of Hollywood — Alba with her baby and home products company, and Union with a fashion line.
When the two joined to talk about the series, they expanded the discussion to how newcomers such as Spectrum have created opportunities that were being dribbled out by broadcast networks. Here's a sampling of what they had to say, edited for brevity.
WHO'S THE BOSS?
Union: There's a pleasure in Jessica and I both being executive producers and creating a show where it's not one bad-ass woman but two bad-ass women, and two bad-ass women of color who are not only bosses in real life but bosses in front of and behind the camera. And for us to both be executive producers and to have a major say-so of what goes into the show and the experience in making the show, is by far one of the most rewarding and fulfilling things of my career.
Alba: We got to create an environment that we hadn't ever been part of, or we haven't seen ourselves in Hollywood over our 20 years-plus experience in the business. When Gab (Gabrielle) asked me to be part of the show, I said, "Here's some table stakes. I'm breastfeeding my newborn son, I have a 7- and 10-year-old, and I never want to feel weird or awkward about them being part of my life. They will come to set, and that needs to be cool with everyone. And if it's not, then this isn't the show that I should be part of." We always tried to be as effective and efficient as possible, but then also have a really supportive community where people's families can come to set.
RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME
Alba: When the story originally was being developed for a network, they very much wanted to fit us inside of these buckets or stereotypes, while we wanted to break out of those boundaries. At Spectrum, the women running the network really wanted us just to create the best show, and in that we got to create cool characters that have rich lives. They're flawed. They're complicated. They don't always agree. They're not competitive. They complement each other. But they also have fun and they're funny and they're witty and they're girls that you want to like grab a beer with or a shot of tequila with or cry with. And you just don't get to see women in this way.
Union: A lot of networks in the last few years have talked a big game about wanting diversity and inclusion — "We want shows headed by women, we want strong female leads." And the proof is in the pudding, and that that pudding is a little thin. But what you see on cable and streaming is people who actually walk the walk and talk the talk, and they put the money and resources behind developing, creating and actually putting on air shows with not one but two women, and two women of color who are allowed to be full-bodied, multi-dimensional characters. That's really never happened in any sort of meaningful way on network television.
LET US ENTERTAIN YOU
Alba: If we grandstand and say, "Hey, we're in this show and because we're women of color, you should tune in, that's (bull). We don't care about that. You're tuning in because it's cool and it works. The story lines work. They're rich. They're interesting, they're mysterious. The jokes are funny. They're not corny or cheesy. And we're not relying on any sort of stereotypical thing out there to get by. If it's successful or not, we all can look around and I think we can be really proud of what we've produced.
Union: If creatives are not getting the same respect — creatively, financially, structurally — it's not real advancement. We're trying to say, "I'm not begging for a seat at your table, where my chair is a rickety lawn chair, where you guys have Lazy Boys and I'm begging for scraps." Actually, I don't even want to be at this table, I don't want to be in this house. We're going to build our own house, with comfortable chairs and with enough room for everyone, so all of our stories, all of us in a global community, can see ourselves reflected. And all of us are respected in every sense of what that word means.