From Seattle to the South, the latest Netflix comedy series follows the McKellan family as they leave the hustle and bustle of city life for a much different experience in small-town Georgia. Helmed by TV vets Loretta Devine and Tia Mowry-Hardrict, the show explores what happens when old school meets new school, and generations clash in a hilarious way.
Only ET was invited on set to get a first look at the heartwarming new sitcom, where it was clear to see that the cast is just as much a family off-screen as they are on.
Devine plays the role of M’Dear, the traditional, church-going grandmother and heart of the family. “We are a very faith-based home. And I raised my son, Moz (Anthony Alabi), who is just the opposite. I don’t think he’s been to church in months, and I found this out when he comes home with his new wife, [Cocoa], (Mowry-Hardrict), which I have to get used to because her ways of doing things are just so different from the way I brought up my kids,” she explained. “I think we're gonna have people taking sides on, 'Oh, that's the way I would do it!’ or, 'No! I would never do it that way!'
While M’Dear and Cocoa have opposing perspectives on life, Devine says she and Mowry-Hardrict are actually quite close and bonded right away.
“I absolutely fell in love with Tia, Tia is just a jewel,” Devine gushed. “She makes you feel so special. And she's so fabulous at what she does.” Mowry-Hardrict echoed a similar sentiment, describing Devine as “iconic” before adding, “I am actually in love with her… I tell her how much I love her every single day.”
Aside from the opportunity of working with an Emmy-winner like Devine, Mowry-Hardrict told ET her reason for wanting to do the series was quite simple. “This is actually my life!” she exclaimed. “Cocoa, the character I play, she reminds me of so much of myself as a mom. I'm very new age, and the way I raise my children it's not so traditional… Cocoa, she lets her children choose their punishments, should I say, so when they get into trouble we talk it out. You know? Like, let’s talk this out, and that's the way I am.”
Art imitates life for Mowry-Hardrict in many ways, but perhaps the most special was reuniting on screen with her Sister, Sister co-star, Jackée Harry, and a cameo by her 8-year-old son, Cree.
Mowry-Hardrict explained, “I'm acting one-on-one with [Harry] and I'm not calling her ‘Mom,’” she said, laughing. “I'm acting with her and then we're like, two completely different characters, but it was like my mind was playing tricks on me, but it was like as if we never missed a beat.”
Cocoa’s other half? Her husband, Moz, portrayed by NFL player-turned-actor Anthony Alabi. He admitted that he “nerded out” when he found out he’d be working with Mowry-Hardrict, an actress he was a fan of growing up.
“As soon as we hit the first scene, we started joking around in between takes and we just got really close. And I think it just worked because she's kind of a goofball the same way I am,” Alabi explained. “It feels natural being in scenes with her… so it's great. It feels nice.”
For Alabi, he said there isn’t much need for character development on the show since Moz is so similar to who he is in reality. “I’m just being me, it’s weird!” he said with a laugh. “Moz and I both, former football players, both kind of goofballs, both dads, enjoy a good time and when it gets serious and to the discipline, I think that’s the thing we both are kind of are parallel with… I grew up in Texas and so I relate to that strict upbringing.”
Speaking of upbringing, it’s Moz and Cocoa’s four kids who are tasked with the challenge of balancing M’Dear’s rigidity with their parents’ millennial approach. For teenager Jade (Talia Jackson), she’s figuring out how to adapt to life in the South while still “playing by her own rules” and being "a diva who loves her phone.” Jade’s younger siblings, Shaka (Isaiah Russell-Bailey), Mazzi (Cameron J. Wright) and Ami (Jordyn Raya James) are always up to something, but through it all, they’re really a family in front of and behind the camera.
“The second we met each other, we all bonded automatically,” Jackson gushed. “Ever since then, we act like a family. We go do stuff together outside of this, we go go-karting and eat dinner!” In a particularly endearing moment, James started to “happy cry” over her strong connection with her castmates, especially Mowry-Hardrict. “She has been very helpful for me,” James said, wiping away tears of joy. “She always does these nice things for me.”
More than anything, the cast is most excited for fans to watch as the McKellans invite us to come along as they deliver entertaining storylines with poignant messages.
Alabi said, “There's religion, you deal with issues everyday that happen in families, whether it's from Jade's perspective as a teenager, or Ami's perspective as a little kid, marital issues, dealing with family issues, control, discipline, all those things. I think we hit a lot of topics and though we're funny about it, I think we slip in a message that people can really relate to.”
“[The cast is] just so gifted. And the scripts are very good,” Devine added. “It's a real depiction of what family life is like and that's what's so fantastic about it. I think people are gonna really, really enjoy it.”
Family Reunion starts streaming July 10th on Netflix.