BURLESON, Texas (BP) – If not for the COVID-19 pandemic, a second season of “Vindication” might never have been made.
The successful faith-based police series, an outreach of Burleson’s Retta Baptist Church, began streaming for free on Amazon Prime in August 2019 after its first episode appeared as a stand-alone on the subscription service Pure Flix in March 2017 and on Prime the following March.
The 10-episode first season, which follows the saga of Detective Gary Travis in the fictional city of East Bank, Texas, can still be rented on Amazon and is available on Pure Flix.
Pure Flix’s licensing commitment to the series helped facilitate financing for season 2, according to Jarod O’Flaherty, the series’ writer, director and producer, adding that news broke of the acquisition of Pure Flix’s streaming video on demand service by Sony’s AFFIRM Entertainment during season 2’s fall filming.
“We now know ‘Vindication’ is going to be on a subsidiary of Sony,” O’Flaherty said. “We are excited about the future.” The purchase is subject to regulatory approval, AFFIRM announced Nov. 12.
Season 2 will air in two parts in 2021, with the first half of the 10-episode split season premiering later this spring, when filming is scheduled for the second half. The first five episodes were shot in June and November and are now being edited by O’Flaherty and musically scored by composer Connor Watkins.
Fans of season 1 will be glad to learn that the principal actors have returned for the second season, including Texans Todd Terry as Travis and Peggy Schott as his wife Becky. Emma Elle Roberts returns as their daughter, Katie, while Venus Monique will reprise her role as Kris Tanner, Travis’ protégé in the East Bank police department.
Some things have changed in East Bank. Without giving away any spoilers, Travis, who was a nominal Christian in season 1, has grown in his faith.
“We now get to see how Travis confronts his job as a believer,” O’Flaherty said, adding that scripts concern current social issues and that increasing the tension is the rumor that the East Bank police chief will soon retire.
“There will be cliff hangers,” O’Flaherty promised.
One subject missing from much of season 2 will be COVID-19. The series continues in a post-pandemic world, O’Flaherty said, explaining that audiences don’t wish to be reminded of COVID-19 when they turn on the TV for entertainment.
While the coronavirus may be missing as subject matter, it did affect filming.
O’Flaherty gauged the “COVID sensitivity level” of cast and crew when hiring for season 2. During filming, crew members wore masks and, while actors removed them for the cameras, they wore them during rehearsals. Special rooms were provided for social distancing and pre-packaged meals replaced buffet-style serving lines.
The full work schedule, which included nine days of filming in June and then a 12-day shoot in November, allowed for little opportunity to go anywhere else and become exposed to the coronavirus.
“Both times we got through the shooting without any outbreaks,” O’Flaherty said. Some new cast members received positive COVID test results before filming began and their roles had to be quickly recast, but those actors never made it to set.
And had it not been for the coronavirus, the second season might never have happened.
After season 1 aired in 2019, ending an “all-encompassing” project for O’Flaherty, he promised his wife and three daughters that he would step away from independent films. Within a few weeks, he landed a job in corporate IT. Life projects – like building a new house closer to the church – had been put on hold. The girls, now teenagers, were ready for braces and cars.
As stable as the corporate job was, O’Flaherty “began to get the itch,” and made plans for two more episodes of “Vindication,” which could be shot during his vacation time.
Then COVID hit and shutdowns began. O’Flaherty was furloughed from work. With the unexpected time off and a donor providing financing, O’Flaherty arranged for the June filming. The opportunity arose to expand those two episodes into a full second season.
“The funding and partnerships came together,” O’Flaherty said. “Had I not been furloughed, no way would I have walked away from my comfortable corporate job. But in the pandemic, it made sense.”
The season 2 project has also employed more than 100 cast and crew.
Schott and Terry, both Christians, expressed enthusiasm about reprising their roles as Becky and Gary Travis during interviews with the TEXAN.
Schott called the opportunity “a blessing,” adding that she sees Becky as “prayerfully and patiently encouraging her husband toward faith without being pushy or judgmental.” Schott said that she hoped Becky, “who has her flaws, but has a heart for Christ, can be a good example to viewers.”
Terry admitted that he has a “better handle” on Gary Travis this season, noting that in season 1, “Travis’ arc as a character is kind of a slow burn as far as coming to Christ.” In the season 2, the detective remains “a guy that still comes with his own set of problems and challenges.” New family members will be introduced in the season, and this will make for some “interesting drama,” Terry said.
“Vindication” remains very much a family and a church family affair, O’Flaherty said. His wife provides meal service and Retta Baptist members help, not only supporting the filming efforts, but also acting as extras.
Retta facilities are “base camp” for filming, the administrative headquarters and the location of some shoots, most of which occurred in and around Burleson.
The show’s success is unquestionable. Season 1 has aired in more than 30 countries in Europe and the Middle East and has been dubbed in at least six languages, O’Flaherty said. In addition to Pure Flix and Prime, the series can also be seen on Redeem TV and the Inspiration Network and is available on DVD.
“For a small Texas Baptist church that runs about 200 on a good Sunday to have a ministry that reaches that far and wide, can only be attributed to God,” O’Flaherty said.