Finally, a TV series that prominently features the Pittsburgh accent and Pittsburghese!
For years viewers have complained TV shows set in Pittsburgh did not do justice to the regional dialect, but new drama “One Dollar,” streaming via CBS All Access Thursday, breaks that barrier.
Set in the fictional Western Pennsylvania town of Braden, the serialized drama follows a swath of characters connected by a $1 bill that changes hands and by possible murders at the mill for which there is blood from seven different people (aka “the seven bloods killings”) but no bodies are found.
The first episode of “One Dollar” wallows in the struggles of several sad sack characters and jumps around a confusing amount as it introduces the unwieldy, large cast, but the show becomes more engrossing in episodes two and three. “One Dollar” hits its stride by episode six, proving it’s a worthy addition to the Peak TV era.
The mill is owned by kindly Bud Carl, played by John Carroll Lynch (“Turn,” “Fargo”), who gets the MVP Award for most dedicated Pittsburgh accent. Bud is known as “Pop” to his workers, but future episodes reveal he may have a darker side.
Ken Fry, aka Mr. Walmart (Sturgill Simpson), steals from the rich in Braden Estates and sells what he’s stolen at a flea market, much to the consternation of the Braden police, led by Chief Trask (Chris Denham). His staff includes a rookie (Nike Uche Kadri) who gains a mentor in former police detective turned private investigator Jake Noveer (Nathaniel Martello-White).
Jake’s clients include a developer, Wilson Furlbee (Greg Germann, “Ally McBeal”), who wants dirt on the murder at the mill. Furlbee’s daughter, Dannie (Kirrilee Berger, “K.C. Undercover”), may know more about what happened that night at the mill.
The cast also includes Pittsburgh native Margot Bingham in a recurring role as Cass, a baker who catches Jake’s eye; Carnegie Mellon University grad Leslie Odom Jr. as a mover and shaker who’s new to Braden and “Scandal” alumnus Jeff Perry, who plays a Braden con man in declining health. Actress Ashlie Atkinson makes a winning impression as the only female steelworker at the mill.
Viewers have become accustomed to TV shows with large casts of unconnected characters who become entwined as the story unfurls. So, the $1 that connects the characters initially seems like an unnecessary gimmick (each episode is named after the character who has the $1 bill).
But at the end of episode two, the $1 gets passed to a school teacher, Carol Seerveld (excellent character actress Deirdre O’Connell), and episode three tells her difficult, touching story that’s sort of a tangent — it doesn’t appear she’ll be pulled into the main murder plot — but a worthwhile one. At this point, the $1 getting passed starts to seem a little more integral to the series’ design.
Showrunner Craig Zobel integrates a lot of elements from real Pittsburgh, including a running gag of a self-driving vehicle that zooms down the streets of Braden a la the autonomous Uber vehicles.
But mostly “One Dollar” is grounded in serious, realistic issues, including the economics of a small town rooted in its steel mill past versus a developer’s vision for its future and questions about racial prejudice inside the Braden police department. “One Dollar” also depicts the haves and have-nots of Braden, addressing socio-economic class disparity. And there’s a timeliness to the show with talk of tariffs kicking in that might help the steel industry and a white supremacist group that doesn’t believe the “seven gloves” murder actually happened, labeling it “fake news.”
Through its early episodes, “One Dollar” never mentions Pittsburgh (characters talk about going “to the city”) but an unfocused image of the Downtown skyline can be glimpsed at the end of the opening credits.
Scenes feature Market Square, PPG Place and a lot of images of steel mills, including the logo for Mon Valley Works Edgar Thompson Plant. Steel mill scenes were shot at Frontier Steel (Neville Island), CP Industries (McKeesport) and Arcelor Mital (Monessen).
The town of Braden is played by Braddock, North Braddock, Rankin, Swissvale, Arnold and New Kensington. Scenes were also filmed in North Versailles, Fox Chapel, Wilmerding, Forest Hills, Apollo and Vandergrift, among many other locations.
The show’s set decorator gets a lot of mileage out of a Terrible Towel that hangs in the background of at least one scene in the premiere and two scenes at two different locations in episodes two.
Multiple times characters refer to other characters as “Yinzers.” And in perhaps the most Pittsburghy moment in the first six episodes, Bud Carl asks his house cleaner, former foster kid Jenny Ludlow (Lindsay Burdge), “You think you can go over to Giant Eagle and get a carpet cleaning machine? Yinz doing OK these days?”
“One Dollar” is a TV show that gets Pittsburghers right.