As Ron Snuffkin on Sons of Tucson, Tyler Labine plays a financially strapped ne'er-do-well who poses as the father of three kids for money. Behind the scenes of the new Fox comedy, however, Labine bears significantly more responsibility.
"I never totally saw [Sons of Tucson] as clearly as when we saw Tyler Labine. When we found him, it was like, 'Oh my God. I totally see the show,'" says executive producer Todd Holland, who also directed the pilot. "Now I can't read our scripts without hearing him. He's such a specific voice and he so captures the lovable scoundrel."
Sons of Tucson (premieres Sunday at 9:30/8:30c on Fox) is about the three motherless though fiercely independent Gunderson brothers, who seek out a fake dad to act as their guardian when their real dad is sent to jail.
While finding a dad-for-hire proves as easy as walking into the local sporting goods store on-screen, casting Labine was a much more difficult process, as the actor was still starring in The CW's Reaper. "We had met with other people, auditioned other people and no one really popped for us as our Ron," says executive producer Justin Berfield. "Once we met him, we knew it was worth the risk. We couldn't imagine anyone else playing Ron."
With the future of Reaper uncertain, producers signed Labine to a second-position contract. If the series was renewed, the role would have to be recast and the pilot scrapped. Labine was content to stay with Reaper had it not been canceled, but is grateful for the Sons team's vote of confidence. "I was really, really happy that they wanted to cover me and the fact that they did that was like a really career-high for me," he says.
Holland credits Labine with helping the show stand out from the typical family sitcom. "Sons finds a fresh way into the family-comedy aisle. Ron isn't a flawed sitcom dad struggling to do his best for his kids. He's not a dad at all and he's really in it for himself," Holland says. "He's just another kid himself."
That distinction is important for Holland and Berfield, who are both family-comedy alums. Holland won two Emmys for his work directing episodes of Malcolm in the Middle and Berfield is best known to fans for playing Malcolm's older brother Reese on the long-running comedy.
"I think it's going to be the fun of a family show, but a show where the balance of power is kind of twisted, where the kids are in control," Berfield says of Sons of Tucson, the second series he has executive-produced. "They're the boss of this guy. They all hold the power over someone else because at any moment, he could turn them in and if he left, they're screwed."
Although when we first meet Ron, he's stealing from his grandmother and in serious trouble with a local bookie, Labine says his alter ego will slowly come to embrace his new gig. "He's not fully aware of it yet, but he's starting to get into the family vibe."
Despite its unconventional premise, Holland says the show is also about universal family truths. "Sons is about the inevitable gravitational pull of family, even when no one actually wants to be a family. Even in this crazy, cut-throat, spiraling-down-the-drain world we live in -- people still choose family," Holland says. "They may not be bio-parents or blood relations -- but family matters."
Watch the video below to see Sons of Tucson star Frank Dolce talk about the series: