The Calling Producers and Cast on the Show's Law & Order Influences, Jewish Representation, and Their Drive To Be Different

What makes the Peacock series a unique police procedural? Stars Jeff Wilbusch, Juliana Canfield, Michael Mosley, and Karen Robinson join executive producers Matthew Tinker and Jason Horwitch in piecing together the crime thriller.

by | November 10, 2022 | Comments

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The Calling isn’t your average police procedural. A psychological crime drama from showrunner and executive producer David E. Kelley (Big Little Lies) and Barry Levinson (Rain Man), who wears both his producer and director hats on the series, the show is based on the Israeli Avraham Avraham book series by Dror Mishani, which Kelley called a “riveting and emotionally complicated series of books.”

The Calling follows Avi (Jeff Wilbusch), a gifted NYPD police detective whose Jewish faith, knack for empathy, and overall belief in mankind helps guide him to uncover the truth and bring criminals to justice. But when a routine investigation makes him question his own spiritual and religious beliefs, Avi begins to unravel as the case he’s attempting to solve sends him spiraling.

Starring alongside Wilbusch is Juliana Canfield, who plays his reluctant partner Janine Harris, Michael Mosley as Detective Earle Malzone, and Karen Robinson as Captain Kathleen Davies. Rotten Tomatoes spoke with these main players, along with executive producers Matthew Tinker (Kelley’s producing partner) and Jason Horwitch, to get the lowdown on Peacock’s unique new series.

Here are six things you need to know about The Calling.

1. This Detective Has Faith

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“It’s not every day that you meet a detective with such a deep connection to faith that it infiltrates their detective work,” Canfield said, referring to Detective Avraham. It’s this detail that allows The Calling to step outside of the normal narrative framework of police procedurals.

“The fact that he’s Jewish is sort of besides the point, to a degree,” Jason Horwitch added. “It’s more that he is somebody who believes. Adapting it from the Israeli story, it makes the most sense to make him a Jew. But more than anything, he’s a person of faith, meaning he believes not only in God and morality, but he also believes in people. And that’s the reason why I think he’s so good at his job.”

Canfield, who spends much of the series sharing the screen with Wilbusch, describes Avraham as a “detective who really marches to the beat of his own drum.” That description could easily apply to the likes of Sherlock Holmes or Adrian Monk. But his spiritual core is what sets him in a category all by himself.

“What makes him sort of odd is also what makes him great,” she continued. “I think by the end, she realizes that she has developed a sense of empathy for him, which he’s helping to strengthen in her.”

2. The Show Relocates the Avraham Avraham story from Israel to New York

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According to Tinker, the decision to move the story to the Big Apple relied a lot on the old adage, “What what you know.”

According to Michael Mosley, the creative team strived to make New York feel immersive in the series, and not just as a backdrop to the events that play out.

“We were underneath the subway and we weren’t locking off locations,” he revealed. “There was people walking around, coming in and out of the frame. I mean, it was gritty. New York was definitely like character, a character in this.

“I don’t think there’s a better place to have a cop drama than New York City; it’s why we see so many of them,” he added. “And yet, the reason we chose to do this particular one this is so incredibly different than the other cop shows we’ve seen. That contrast of putting Avi in New York City surrounded by other cops and the other bits of diversity and layers in the city itself, I think, was just an irresistible combo that made perfect sense to us at the end of the day.”

3. The Creatives Worked To Accurately Represent the Jewish Faith

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It goes without saying that The Calling will be scrutinized for the ways in which is portrays the Jewish faith. While Avi’s religion isn’t at the forefront of the show, or the main personality trait that informs his character and story, it’s still a big part of who he is. Considering how previous television shows with Jewish heroes have tapped non-Jewish actors to play lead roles, we had to wonder how deep the show’s investment was in portraying Judaism accurately.

The short answer, as Wilbusch explained, is that everyone has a different opinion about it.

“We had a lot of Jewish people involved. Barry Levinson is one of them. Michael Slovis, Jason Horwitch, Jonathan Shapiro,” the actor, who previously starred in Netflix limited series Unorthodox, said. “We all have many different opinions about it. But it was very important for all of us to have a good representation, and an accurate representation. [For instance], our props department already knows the difference between Ashkenazi and Sephardic. We talked a lot about [Hebrew] pronunciations, back and forth. We discussed the hell out of all of it.”

As for embodying Detective Avraham, everyone’s opinions seemed to be in sync: Wilbusch was the perfect person to play the part.

“Everything I have lived until now, every experience, every role I played, I feel, was all in preparation for playing Avi,” Wilbusch added. “It was a challenging role, a fascinating role, and I wanted to do it justice, because he’s a beautiful character.”

4. Law & Order Inspired the Series To Be Different

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Law & Order is referenced multiple times in the series as a running joke between two characters. Dick Wolf’s landmark police procedural, though, played a bigger part in creating The Calling. Tinker gave a nod to the series (which also exists under the NBC Universal umbrella) as being “so ingrained in the culture of America.” So, in creating another investigative drama set in New York City, he needed to answer the question, “How are we different?”

Answering that description, Robinson pointed out that this isn’t the type of series that drops clues to keep the viewer guessing as whodunit.

“It’s the kind of show that actually takes you into these characters lives, it takes you into their apartments, into the rooms of their apartments, into the conversations, and the arguments. What I found really fascinating about it is how deeply-rooted it is in the everyday mundane happenings of life. And that leads you to something surprising,” Robinson said.

5. Its Unique Story Structure Makes for an Easy Binge

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The Calling also presents itself in a two-story structure in an eight-episode season. The first four episodes follow its own contained story, with the second half of the season following suit. On November 10, the whole season will be made available to view.

All of these stories will be told in four-episode clusters, a structure that David E. Kelley conceived.

“I think it’s an incredible structure,” Horwitch explained. “They’re much more satisfying than something like a single episode on Law and Order, and they don’t ask you to invest 10 hours. I think they’re really a special new hybrid.”

Drilling things down to an eight episode season, Tinker believes, would be desirable for the viewer as the program offers a more palatable time commitment.

“If you did the show week-to-week, it would feel a little frustrating for an audience member. Here, we’re going to say, ‘Here’s the plate. Eat it up in one sitting, if you want.’ You can break it up, otherwise. But you’ll get a really satisfying larger two-arc series across the first season.”

6. It Has Attracted Some Stellar Guest Talent to the Project

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Stepping outside the formulaic confines of a crime-of-the-week procedural, The Calling honest its focus more on the characters involved in the case being investigated, instead of the details of the case itself. And given that each story is confined to four episodes, Mosley points out the appeal for top TV talent to pop in for a short time to add layers to the story being told.

“Because we’re given four episodes to each story,” he continued, “we get these really interesting actors. They get to come out, and not just for an episode. They get to come out for five weeks, and they really get to chew on something. And I think that’s a huge asset to the show. They’re going to have the opportunity to get some really interesting talent in there.”

Avi and the rest of the NYPD team are the protagonists of the series. But, in an effort to etch out their own unique place in the procedural genre, Tinker said their focus was to “write our stories as if everyone’s the protagonist who has their own mission and their own story. I think you really feel that in the first four episodes.”

The Calling season 1 key art

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This detail is what allows the supporting cast on the series to really shine.

Tinker continued: “The guest cast on the show, honestly, is unbelievable and just top notch. We have performances from people you’ve seen on other shows, doing other things. They seem familiar, but, like on the last four [episodes], you’ll have someone who was on This Is Us. I don’t want to spoil anything, but he’s playing completely different from the character he played on that show.”

“It’s one of the ways we’re answering that question, ‘Why is the show different from every other cop show?’ And it’s just a fun way to start things off,” he added.

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