Hulu’s “UnPrisoned” is the unconventional father-daughter story we’ve yet to see on television, but it’s a necessary watch that speaks to a lot of real-world topics. The heartwarming dramedy — created and executive produced by Tracy McMillan — premiered on the streamer on March 10, introducing viewers to a “messy but perfectionist relationship therapist and single mom” named Paige (played by Kerry Washington), “whose life is turned right-side-up when her dad, [Edwin], (Delroy Lindo) gets out of prison and moves in with her and her teenage son, Finn (Faly Rakotohavana).”
“UnPrisoned” takes a half-serious look at the after-effects of America’s criminal justice system, mixing humour and heart to address a reality McMillan tells POPSUGAR many people face every day. “We’re showing a Black family and an experience that has not been seen on television before,” she says. “We’ve seen people in prison and we’ve seen people going to prison, but we’ve never seen what happens when someone gets out of prison and comes back to their family and how we put that family back together again.”
According to McMillan — who’s also an author, relationship expert, and seasoned TV writer — “UnPrisoned” is a story she’s been “trying to do versions of” for as long as she’s been working in television. “I wrote a script in 2007 called ‘Life After Life’ that was an hour-long drama. It didn’t go anywhere, but I’ve been trying to work this out the whole time,” she shares. “It just so happens that this is the version of this story that made it all the way to the screen, and that’s in no small part due to Kerry Washington and Delroy Lindo” — who executive produce the series alongside her.
Each episode of “UnPrisoned” is described as being “inspired by some truly crazy sh*t,” but viewers are curious as to how much of the show is inspired by a true story. Ahead, McMillan breaks down all of the real elements in “UnPrisoned” for POPSUGAR — inspired by her actual relationship with her formerly incarcerated father.
Is “UnPrisoned” Based on a True Story?
As wild as the storylines are in “UnPrisoned,” McMillan confirms that almost every aspect of the show is based on her real life, which she wrote about in her 2010 memoir “I Love You and I’m Leaving You Anyway.” Per her website bio, the Minneapolis, MN, native “had a really dramatic childhood involving foster care, prison visits, and multiple moms that gave me lots of opportunity to interface with some of the darker aspects of human nature.” All of this is included in “UnPrisoned”‘s layered plot, which portrays each of these happenings almost exactly as McMillan experienced them growing up.
The core of “UnPrisoned” is the father-daughter relationship that plays out between Washington’s Paige and Lindo’s Edwin, which McMillan says came to life on account of the actors having “a lot of chemistry.” “They’re a great father-daughter duo,” she adds of Washington and Lindo. “It’s funny because when I was writing this, I was like, ‘What other father-daughter TV shows are there?’ There are none.” This is why McMillan says she made it a point to have her series revolve around the rarely talked about concept.
Though “UnPrisoned” does touch on topics like troubled romance and relationships, the creator notes “there [aren’t] a lot of TV shows about how that love life got the way it is.” She adds, “That’s what telling the story of the father, the daddy issues story, that’s what it gets you.”
What’s Real and What’s Fake in “UnPrisoned”?
McMillan affirms there are “many aspects of this show that actually happened in real life.” However, one of the main issues in “UnPrisoned” — the back-and-forth of Edwin coming to live with Paige and Finn — is completely made up. “In real life, my dad never moved in with me,” McMillan shares, “. . . I’ve been to too much therapy for that.”
However, almost every other storyline in “UnPrisoned” pulls from McMillan’s real life. For instance, in episode six, when Paige, Finn, and Edwin take a trip to Alabama to visit the latter’s hometown, that was something McMillan and her father actually did years ago. That episode also touches on how Edwin’s mother was dragged out of her house in the middle of the night in front of her kids, which happened to McMillan’s grandmother in real life.
There’s also the messiness of Paige’s love life in “UnPrisoned” — aka, the accidental love triangle between Paige, her boyfriend Mal (also her father’s parole officer), played by Marque Richardson, and her ex Bill, played by Tim Daly — and that pulls a lot of inspiration from the creator’s track record with love, as she, according to her, has been “married a bunch.”
Finally, the cutest, yet most heartbreaking aspect of the show: older Paige trauma bonding with her younger self (played by Jordyn McIntosh). The idea for the unique perspective in the show was all McMillan’s, something she says came from her own relationship with her inner child. “I thought, what if we actually made this inner child a character in the show? And then we see her and we talk to her, the way I talk to my inner child.”
Now, McMillan’s inner child may not have the same “cute, adorable, tiny vintage polka-dotted blazer” that younger Paige has in “UnPrisoned,” but she’s grateful that McIntosh was able to channel her vision. “Jordyn came in and crushed it because she is who we all want to be when we grow up,” McMillan shares of the young actor. “There were moments on set where Jordyn would do her thing. She would do a take and the entire crew would break into applause at the end of [it]. Because she was just so powerful at conveying and communicating what your authentic self feels and sounds like and we could all feel it. You’re like, ‘Yeah, I want to be in touch with that part of me. That is the part of me that I want to operate from.’ The part that is strong, knows the truth, is funny, loving, honest, and keeping it real.”
Will There Be an “UnPrisoned” Season 2?
Hulu has yet to renew the Onyx Collective series for a second season, but McMillan says she personally has plans if and when the time comes. “I have places I want these characters to go,” she says. “I have stuff that they need to take a look at. Work they need to do, fun they need to have, people they need to date, jobs they need to get. So I have a lot of plans for a second season. And then if people keep watching and loving the show, I’ll get the chance to do that, I think.”