Almost Paradise: Kai and Ernesto are perfect TV crime drama partners

Samantha Richelle and Art Acuña in Almost Paradise. (Photo credit: Courtesy of J. Goldstein PR)
Samantha Richelle and Art Acuña in Almost Paradise. (Photo credit: Courtesy of J. Goldstein PR) /

Almost Paradise’s Samantha Richelle and Art Acuña have become TV’s best partners.

Almost Paradise has set a new standard for how TV crime dramas can, and should, write their police partnerships.

Art Acuña and Samantha Richelle have been fantastic this season as detectives Ernesto Alamares and Kai Mendoza—not only in what they bring as actors, but with the dynamic they have together and how they’ve created something fresh and fun for the genre.

Over nine episodes, we’ve watched Kai and Ernesto go through a lot. He’s been shot, she’s almost drowned, they’ve both taken their fair share of bumps and bruises, and of course, they’ve both had to wrangle Alex Walker (Christian Kane).

More from TV Crime Dramas

But what we’ve also seen is a true partnership, one that’s been supportive on both sides and also been allowed to grow as the season goes on.

When Kai took a big leap forward in her career in the most recent episode, Almost Paradise made a point of showing viewers how happy Ernesto was for her. And when Ernesto was wounded in another episode, there was no one more concerned for his well-being—and relieved that he not only survived but wound up being a hero—than Kai.

These are characters who actually collaborate. They listen to each other, they offer advice to one another, and they’ve both learned things from working together. What Almost Paradise has done is far beyond the typical TV crime drama partnership that’s usually more about banter and action than the real process of working alongside someone every day for a common goal.

It’s clear in the scenes that they share that Kai is becoming a better cop because she’s partnered with Ernesto, and that Ernesto is broadening his horizons because of Kai. They’re not just thrown together by default or because the show thinks it needs to create a certain dynamic; they truly do complement each other.

The same can be said for the actors. The best partnerships in TV crime dramas are created by not only finding two great performers who are talented individually, but they also create something unique when they’re together.

Art Acuña has been the backbone of Almost Paradise in the role of Ernesto Alamares. Ernesto’s even keel is a welcome and important counterbalance to Alex’s recklessness and Kai’s desire to run at everything full speed. It’s not realistic to have TV cops that play hero all the time and rush into every danger, and Ernesto is a great example of someone who just is an all-around solid cop. He can take a flying leap when he needs to, but he keeps the group grounded.

Notice, too, that Ernesto supports everyone else; as Christian Kane pointed out in our latest interview, not only does he stand behind Kai but he’s also there for Alex, too. He’s an incredible partner, having the backs of the people closest to him—but not just being blindly loyal. He’s also got the integrity to express his concerns. That’s part of being a partner that’s so often passed over on TV, where so many pairings are unequivocally “ride or die.”

Along those same lines, Art Acuña truly is the foundation of the show. He grounds the series and he’s the straight man to so many of Almost Paradise‘s crazier moments. He plays off all of his co-stars so well, and he’s also got a sly sense of humor that hopefully we see more of next season. Watching Ernesto pretend to be drunk in the penultimate episode was a laugh-out-loud moment.

Samantha Richelle is definitely having a breakout moment with her role as Kai Mendoza. Dean Devlin pointed out in our interview that she didn’t have much acting experience before Almost Paradise, but you wouldn’t know that by watching her. Just like Kai is moving up in the ranks, we are watching Samantha make a statement as an actress. When so many TV shows just settle for the stereotypical “tough yet attractive” female cop, she’s shown how much more there is to Kai than her good looks and her ability to beat someone up.

While the fact that Kai is a woman and the challenges that incurs are part of her story, they’re not what defines her—we’ve also been able to see how resilient she is, how flawed she is, and that she is incredibly smart. Kai is still learning as a detective and maturing as a person, and Samantha has shown every aspect of her character, from the awesome ones to the parts that still need a bit of work. She’s made it so we want to see where Kai goes, but we also want to see where she goes, too.

And that’s why Kai and Ernesto work so beautifully together. Almost Paradise has allowed the actors to truly shine through in these characters; it feels like these two people were meant to play these parts. They’ve made us as viewers invest in their partnership because it’s clear how much they’ve invested in it. And they’re a breath of fresh air that feels more real, and more engaging, than most other crime-fighting duos on the small screen.

Christian Kane gives a clue about Almost Paradise finale. dark. Next

Almost Paradise airs Mondays at 10:00 p.m. on WGN America. If you’ve missed any of the episodes so far, you can watch them online via Amazon Video or on the Electric Now app.