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Jerry Bruckheimer's 'Council of Dads' brings honest emotion

Kurt Anthony Krug
Special to The Detroit News

 At first glance, the NBC drama “Council of Dads” wouldn’t seem like a Jerry Bruckheimer project.

   After all, the Detroit native, 76, is best known for producing big-budget blockbuster action movies, such as “Beverly Hills Cops” (which occurred partly in Detroit), “Top Gun,” “Crimson Tide,” “Con Air,” “Armageddon,” “Enemy of the State,” “Black Hawk Down,” “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and “Bad Boys,” among others.

Yet “Council,” a series about a woman raising her family after her husband’s death, doesn’t seem like typical Bruckheimer fare.

 However, the Mumford High School alumnus disagreed.

            “Great stories and characters you care about are always the main draw, whether the backdrops are big or more intimate,” said Bruckheimer. “(‘Council’) has so much heart and is based in emotional reality. I was so taken with Joan Rater and Tony Phelan’s ideas of how to turn Bruce Feiler’s very personal book into a drama series, that I was determined to get the project on the air.”

Jerry Bruckheimer

            Rater and Phelan, a married writing team who worked on “Grey’s Anatomy,” turned Feiler’s book, “The Council of Dads: My Daughters, My Illness, and the Men Who Could Be Me,” into a weekly series currently in its first season and airing Thursdays. All 10 episodes were finished prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The season finale airs Thursday, July 2.

“The series was always in great hands with Joan and Tony,” said Bruckheimer. “Every script was imbued with rich, layered character and honest emotion. They are two of the best writers in the business, and we think it shows in every episode of (‘Council’).”

            On “Council,” restaurant owner Scott Perry (Tom Everett Scott, “That Thing You Do!”) learns he has cancer. Not wanting his wife Robin (Sarah Wayne Callies, “The Walking Dead”), a physician, to raise their five children alone when he’s dead, they recruit three close friends to serve as father figures or a “council of dads,” becoming part of Robin’s extended family. These friends include Anthony Lavelle (Clive Standen, “Taken”), a chef and Scott’s best friend; Larry Mills (Michael O’Neill, “Extant”), whom Scott sponsored in Alcoholics Anonymous; and Dr. Oliver Post (J. August Richards, “Angel”), Robin’s best friend since medical school.

            Both Richards and Bruckheimer spoke highly of Callies.

“She’s a gem,” said Richards. “When they talk about chemistry, it’s something I really feel with her. It’s something I see when I watch us work together. We have a really deep relationship as friends; there’s nothing we don’t talk to each other about. We have moved from the colleagues column into the family column. It’s not like working at all; it’s like living – I’ve never said it that way before, and I love that I said that! It’s like living; it’s not like acting – that’s what it’s like working with her.”  

COUNCIL OF DADS -- Season: 1 -- Pictured: (l-r) Steven Silver as Evan Norris, Thalia Tran as Charlotte Perry, Michael O’Neill as Larry Mills, Michele Weaver as Luly Perry, Emjay Anthony as Theo Perry, Clive Standen as Anthony Lavelle, Sarah Wayne Callies as Robin Perry, J. August Richards as Dr. Oliver Post, Blue Chapman as JJ Perry -- (Photo by: Jeff Lipsky/NBC)

Added Bruckheimer: “Sarah and J. are remarkable together. Their real-life chemistry really shines through and builds throughout the season. For this concept to work, you have to believe that at its core these men truly care for Robin and the Perry family. ”

            Richards jumped at the chance to play Oliver, a gay, Black man who’s married to another gay, Black man (Kevin Daniels, “Sirens”). Together, they have a daughter Tess (Lindsey Blackwell, “David Makes Man”). The significance of their characters is they’re the first married Black gay couple who are professionals and raising a family to appear on network television.

“As far as to my knowledge – and I’ve done research about this – it’s never been done before,” said Richards. “It’s important because for a long time the portrayal of gay men – specifically of gay, Black men – has been used for comic relief or something to be ridiculed or something that evokes shame. What I love about our characters is that we’re portrayed in a very three-dimensional way. We’re portrayed as any family.”

Richards felt such a tremendous responsibility to the role of Oliver that he publicly came out as gay during a live video chat on Instagram with Callies in late April.

“First of all, I try to be authentic in every role I play,” he said. “But this one would require something different from me because I knew what I wanted to see when I watched the show. I wanted to see people who really felt like they really knew each other and were truly in one another’s lives. In order to create that relationship with Sarah, I didn’t want to feel like I was holding anything back from her.”

When “Council” was picked up, the cast was invited to discuss their characters with the writers.

“And that experience is one that is very unique and one that not many people are privy to,” he said. “I really didn’t want to do 10 episodes and not bring the authenticity of that experience to the screen… When the show was being launched, I knew I was going to be asked to speak about the character and the show, but I wanted to be able to speak about it authentically. I also realized this was an opportunity to use this character to be of service to other Black gay men out there and other gay men out there to see a married family with a child as role models to look up to and know that it was coming from a deeply authentic place – from the actor playing it. I just felt it was the right time to share that aspect of my life.”

'Council of Dads'

8 p.m. Thursdays on NBC