The inaugural season of the upcoming anthology series Briarpatch has the hallmark of a prestige TV drama. Like Twin Peaks, Top of the Lake and even Riverdale, the show opens with a mysterious murder when Felicity, a young police detective, ends up dead when her car blows up. That’s when her sister Allegra “Pick” Dill (Rosario Dawson), an investigator working for an ambitious senator in Washington D.C., opts to return to her small hometown to figure out what happened, encountering all sorts of kooky and all too suspicious characters in the process. Executive produced by Mr. Robot‘s Sam Esmail, Briarpatch has a pulpy noir feel with a Southwestern flavor, much of it courtesy of its New Mexico landscapes.
In its move to TV, Ross Thomas’ 1984 novel by the same name has been revamped to better reflect the times. For starters, Dawson’s character was originally “Benjamin” not Allegra Dill. Add Dawson’s casting to the fact that the show is now set at a (fictional) border town, and you have a decidedly modern take on a wholly American story. As Executive Producer Andy Greenwald put it at the Television Critics Association panel, this setting was “part of the spirit of wanting to update the show. It felt really exciting to me,” he added, the “possibilities of putting a show in a place where eyes are turned right now. And also, I hopefully wanted to confound some people’s expectations about what a border story could or should be.”
To do justice to such a story, Greenwald brought in a cultural consultant, Francisco Cantú, the author of The Line Becomes a River. In that memoir, Cantú tells the story of how he went from being a Border Patrol agent increasingly uncomfortable with his complicity in the force’s inhumane policies to a civilian eager to expose the border’s inherent violence against immigrants. Not only did Cantú’s book influence the feel of the show’s first season, Greenwald shared, but his life story ended up inspiring the character of Lalo (played by Miami-born actor David Zaldivar) and his storyline on the show.
Timely political issues aside, Dawson also found her role being much closer to her personal life than she might have first wished. As she shared at the TCA panel, they shot the pilot in September 2018 and she started dating Sen. Cory Booker the following month. Yes, he even visited the set despite openly teasing Greenwald for writing a show that paints politicians in such a bleak way. Aka don’t expect Briarpatch to be borrowing anything from Dawson’s off-screen couple.
“It’s definitely a much more cynical sort of perspective of politics that is expressed there,” Dawson added. “And I’m very grateful that there are some similarities, but the line is very much drawn right there, because Cory is definitely, like, the epitome and definition of a civil servant and just a super beautiful, passionate advocate and activist in the space that he occupies. And I think that’s just really amazing. But it’s good fodder for television, I have to say.”
Briarpatch premieres February 6, 2020, at 10 p.m. on USA Network.