"Unprisoned," a new series starring Kerry Washington, was shot in Los Angeles. But there are plenty of reminders that it's set in the Twin Cities — Minneapolis sweatshirts on sale at a department store, a hangout called Lake Harriet Coffee, copies of the Star Tribune in a news rack. Those who stick around for the final credits also will see that Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis supervised the music.
But the most important local ingredient is the show's creator, Tracy McMillan.
"This is not an L.A. story or an East Coast story," said McMillan, who spent her childhood in various homes throughout the Twin Cities after her prostitute mom turned her over to the foster care system. "This is a Minnesota story."
The veteran TV writer, who has worked on "Mad Men" and "United States of Tara," based the series on the rocky relationship with her father, who went to prison for pimping and drug dealing in Minneapolis when she was 3 years old. He would spend the next two decades in and out of prison before being released once and for all in 2012 from a Duluth prison camp. In real life, he immediately moved to Michigan to be close to his sisters.
But in "Unprisoned," which starts streaming Friday on Hulu, McMillan imagines what would have happened if she had remained in her hometown, continued working as a relationships expert and allowed Dad to move in with her and her teenage son.
"That's what's great about writing for television," McMillan said in a recent Zoom interview from her home in Columbus, Ohio. "You can explore from the safety of your computer."
In the eight-part season, Washington plays Paige, a therapist with commitment issues and who gets both exasperated and dazzled by dad (played by Delroy Lindo), sometimes at the same time. Despite lots of bickering, the two clearly have a bond.
"Telling the stories of what it's like to love somebody who's a formerly incarcerated person is so important," Washington told the trade paper Variety. "I think this family's such a great example because they are really trying to love each other and be the best they can."
One of the nice surprises in the dramedy is that Edwin isn't the stereotypical ex-con. He's so smooth when hitting on women at the grocery store that they practically dash to the frozen-food aisle afterward to cool down. His advice on romance is sounder than anything Dr. Phil ever prescribed.
"One of my goals with the series is to have America fall in love with a career criminal," said McMillan, whose books include the memoir "I Love You and I'm Leaving You Anyway."
To get into the characters' mind-sets — and reconnect with her roots — McMillan moved back to Minneapolis in 2020 and spent six months here working through the early drafts.
Washington, who also is an executive producer, signed on early. The two ended up spending lots of time together. McMillan noticed how the "Scandal" star adopted her gestures, tone of voice and how she deals with nervous energy by jumping in the air.
Lindo ("The Good Fight") also spent time with his character's inspiration. Freddie McMillan passed away at the start of 2023 after a long illness, but he did get to see the show's trailers.
"I think he was less interested in seeing my thoughts about him and more excited that Delroy Lindo was his buddy," said McMillan. "His passing was very sad timing, but in a way, this feels like a tribute. In a lot of ways, he wasn't a great dad. In other ways, he was."