The Drama Club: ABC’s ‘The Gates’ Is More Than Just Desperate Fangs

Frank Grillo in The Gates (ABC)

Frank Grillo in The Gates (ABC)

Go Behind ‘The Gates’ With Frank Grillo

Missing ‘The Vampire Diaries‘? ‘True Blood‘ not enough to satisfy your thirst for the supernatural?  ABC’s new summer series ‘The Gates,‘ premiering Sunday, June 20th at 10PM could be just what you need. Note that you can flip the channels directly from ‘True Blood’ to ‘The Gates’ allowing for two back-to-back hours of vampire television every Sunday. The pilot is good, far better than I expected after seeing the promos that make the show look like Desperate Fangs.  Yes, it is set in a mythical, too perfect suburbia, but that is where the similarities end. The show plays it straight.  There are plenty of moments that are genuinely creepy and suspenseful.

The premise is that a former Chicago police officer moves with his family to take a new low stress job as the police chief in a planned community.   It soon becomes clear that not all of the residents are human.  Without giving anything away (how I wish the promos had not spoiled part of the pilot’s excellent teaser), this show is a good mix of the familiar supernatural tropes and unexpected elements.  The network learned something from the mistakes it made with ‘Eastwick‘: a supernatural show should be supernatural, not attempt to be a girlie dramedy.   Look out for an innovative blood storage system and ask yourself how football became the official sport of werewolves.  The cast is universally good.   I called the episode’s ending in advance, but it sets up the rest of the series.  It may not be the most original series, but I was left hungry for more.

I spoke with Frank Grillo (‘Prison Break‘), who stars as police chief Nick Monahan, about ‘The Gates.’  In this spoiler filled interview he reveals why he was drawn to this role, how the set became almost as scary as the show, and why he always gets cast as cops.

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Tell me about your character, Nick.
Nick Monahan, he’s an ex-Chicago homicide detective who does something in vigilante style back in Chicago and gets away with it but almost destroys his career and family.  He gets offered this job at a small gated community like Bel Air that’s very self sufficient, has its own police force, and fire department.  Basically, he looks at it as an opportunity for his family to move to suburbia.  Pretty soon after they get there, he realizes that it’s not what it presented itself as.  Weird things start to happen. By about episode four, something really weird happens and he discovers there are supernatural forces inside The Gates.  First he discovers the vampires and realizes that even the vampires are, like him, looking for a new life and want to reinvent themselves.  So it becomes a balance of do we stay there and try to acclimate ourselves to discovering that Santa Claus really exists and whether these people are really good people. It gets really interesting because then we discover there’s something else inside The Gates and then we discover that The Gates are actually a sanctuary more or less for all of these people to try to get away from whatever they’re running from in the outside world.  They all have this common thread and that’s this desire to live the good life.  But, like any town, there’s a lot of personalities and a lot of cliques.  If you took away the supernatural element it would be very interesting just to watch these people interact.

How does The Gates compare to other vampire shows and movies?
I saw a couple of the promos and it almost looks like ‘Desperate Housewives.’  The tone of it is closer to ‘True Blood’ then it is to ‘Desperate Housewives’ or even ‘Vampire Diaries.’  It’s more of a drama.  It’s not a dramedy at all.  That’s what’s interesting because ABC’s chosen to show promos in a certain way.  They know their audience.  I certainly don’t know that business.  People say, ‘It looks kind of campy.’  It’s not a campy show.  It’s steeped in drama.

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Did Nick end up in The Gates by chance, or was he chosen because he needed to escape the outside world?
Basically, Nick’s trial was very public.  The person who developed The Gates is a very savvy character.  I think he saw Nick as somebody who had the qualifications and was in a dire need to make a change in his life.  Although Nick doesn’t realize that this is not a chance job offer.  He thinks in the beginning that this is just an opportunity that has presented itself.  It’s kind of like the movie ‘The Firm‘ with Tom Cruise and his wife when he gets the job and they move to the beautiful neighborhood and it’s all furnished.  It’s this bucolic, ideal situation and everything’s been given to them.  It’s also that Nick gets ensconced in The Gates.  To his family, it’s a great place to live.  That’s by design.  So when he realizes what’s going on, it’s not so easy for him to leave.

How does the mythology of ‘The Gates’ compare to other supernatural shows?
There are different rules here.  The great thing these writers have done is they put their own twist on the mythology. They’ve made up a few different rules for the vampires and other supernatural characters that we haven’t necessarily seen on other TV shows. With the vampires, the way they can survive in the daylight and go about their business,it’s a technology they’ve developed over the years.  It’s not like the vampires are so superhuman that they don’t have an Achilles heel.  They’re vulnerable.

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What appealed to you about this show?
I had done three or four movies in the past two years that are actually about to come out.  I decided this pilot season I wanted to do a television series.  A couple of them came my way: a couple of straight on cop dramas.  Then I worked with [The Gates] producers before on a pilot called ‘Blue Bloods’ that Brett Ratner directed.  They said, ‘Read this and tell us if you’re interested.’ I did and although it’s a cop, it’s a mixed genre show.  It was about vampires and about this family who’s got this moral dilemma and it just seemed like it would be interesting.  It was thirteen episodes picked up on the air, so it was a matter of economics, a matter of the people involved and it all came together pretty easily for me.

Why have you been cast as a cop so often?
I think people see me as this stoic, authoritarian figure.  I’m really kind of a goofball.  It’s kind of funny because I have to put on these uniforms and I become coplike I guess.  I cut my hair short, I put on Ray Bans and people think I’m a cop.  It’s a question I ask myself all the time.

Tell me about the rest of the cast.
Marisol Nichols, who plays my wife, and I worked together on a series called ‘Blind Justice’ a couple years back.  So Marisol and I know each other very well.  I actually read with the actresses that were auditioning for the role.  It was an instant chemistry because we know each other so well.  Travis Caldwell plays my son, Charlie.  He’s a fantastic young talent.  McKaley Miller who plays my daughter is like a forty year old woman trapped in a thirteen year old’s body. Luke Mably and I have become really good friends.  He plays Dylan Radcliff.  I think American women are going to fall in love with him because he’s Jude Law meets Johnny Depp.  It’s just a great cast. Actually, they’re all very attractive people.

Have there been any funny bloopers?
Working in Shreveport Louisiana, we were doing a scene by a lake.  It was very late at night.  We were standing there and the DP yelled ‘Stop.’  He says, ‘Move to the side Frank,’ really calmly, like a captain on an airplane.  We said, ‘What’s going on?’ He said, ‘Well, there’s a copperhead at your feet.’  I look down and there’s a six foot snake a foot away from my foot. That night they found seven poisonous snakes on set.

Is this just a summer series or will there be more episodes if the show is a hit?
You’re always cautiously optimistic.  As far as I’m looking at the show, we’ll do the thirteen episodes.  But ABC really likes what they’ve seen and they’ve really started to promote the show well.  If it does good numbers, I’m sure they’ll want us to come back before next summer.  They’ll wait to see what their pilots do in September.


The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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