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March 04, 2015

So Long, Suburbs!

In his action drama for Cinemax, writer Jonathan Tropper probes his passion for pulp.

Mike Flaherty

In the six novels that established him as a serious — and successful — writer, Jonathan Tropper explored the angst of a tree-lined suburbia much like his own hometown, New Rochelle, New York.

So, why's a nice guy like that masterminding the blood-soaked, brashly carnal world of Cinemax's Banshee?

The series follows a career criminal who makes his way straight from the big house to a seemingly sleepy town, where he impersonates its new sheriff and confronts a sprawling crime syndicate run by an Amish (yep, Amish) kingpin.

That's a far cry from the madcap yet amiable shenanigans of Tina Fey and Jason Bateman in last year's adaptation of Tropper's 2009 novel, This Is Where I Leave You.

"It's just a very dysfunctional family," Tropper says of the core characters in Banshee, which he created and executive produces. He's referring mostly to the love story at the show's center, between Lucas (Antony Starr), the aforementioned stranger in town, and Carrie (Ivana Milicevic), his once-and-again paramour and partner in crime.

Tongue taken from cheek, Tropper admits that Banshee represents the darker side of his celluloid education.

Primarily inspired by the "human stories" of filmmakers like James L. Brooks, Cameron Crowe and Woody Allen, Tropper was also an '80s kid who came of age during a halcyon era of action movies toplined by Chuck Norris, Sylvester Stallone and Jean-Claude Van Damme.

"So there's a lot of pulp fiction in me," he explains, "and Banshee is a chance to exercise those muscles."

Tropper, who brought on fellow novelist David Schickler as a co-creator, had originally developed the project at HBO with the help of Alan Ball (who, as the creator of True Blood, knew a thing or two about torrid backwoods pulp).

However, Ball was approached by Cinemax — a corporate cousin of HBO — just as it was looking to add original series to its schedule, and he recognized the bigger-fish, smaller-pond benefits of placing the show there.

The inaugural in-house production for Cinemax, Banshee is now breezing through season three.

That's thanks not only to its charismatic lead — Starr, a New Zealander in his first U.S. TV role — but also from what Tropper describes as a healthy budget and cinema-worthy production values.

"We are the point of the spear for Cinemax," he says, "so I guess there are some perks to being the first."

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