One Dollar captures the spirit of the steel city

Josiah Martin | A&E Editor


Western Pennsylvania rarely acts as the setting of a television series. The only shows that immediately come to mind are This is Us and Mr. Belvedere, the latter of which took place in Beaver Falls, and rarely, if ever, made reference to this fact. One Dollar, set in the tone-perfect, fictional Pittsburgh suburb of Braden, is a far cry from Mr. Belvedere.

The new series, available on CBS’s All Access service starts Aug. 30. It follows a dollar bill as it exchanges hands between people involved in a murder mystery. The first two episodes of the show are riveting, dark and packed with smart, quick dialog. The ensemble cast expertly portrays characters that feel real, every one of them a flawed hero or a lovable villain. Most importantly and stunningly, the show looks, sounds and feels authentically Pittsburgh.

One Dollar centers largely around Garrett Drimmer (Philip Ettinger), a single father and steel worker, who struggles to support his daughter with the gruelling hours and low wages of the steel mill, run by Bud Carl (John Carroll Lynch). After a pool of blood is discovered at the mill, it begins to seem that Garrett was somehow involved in the act. Meanwhile, Dannie Furlbee (Kirrilee Berger) begins her own investigation into Garrett after he hops a country club fence to unexpectedly knock her date unconscious around the time of the murders.

At the same time, Dannie’s mother hires private investigator Jake Noveer (Nathaniel Martello-White) to see if her husband, Wilson Furlbee (Greg Germann), a wealthy real-estate developer who wishes to build an apartment complex on the site of the steel mill, is cheating on her. Wilson, coincidentally, hires Jake to investigate the murder himself as part of his desire for the property.

The show keeps you hooked as the relationships between these characters and others grow more complex, and new characters such as Leslie Odom Jr.’s Randall Abatsy appear with no clear connection to the events that have so far unfolded. One Dollar keeps you wanting answers, but not in an insufferable, constantly revolving narrative sort of way. Instead, you’re satisified by always learning information you didn’t know you needed, and always finding that a character you’re already familiar with is a more important figure than you had anticipated.

Being native to a streaming platform, the show is a bit gorier and more profanity-laden than one would come to expect from a CBS series. In fact, the series lacks almost all the painful tropes of “network”-style television. It isn’t over-simplified, it isn’t overacted, it doesn’t feel cheap. One Dollar is a drama for the streaming age. Once the whole season is released, its captivating nature will make it easily bingeable, but its deep, complex plot makes it perfect for traditional week-to-week viewing nonetheless.

The aspect of this show that will blow local viewers away is its accurate portrayal of Pittsburgh and its citizens. Many of the characters carry a heavy “yinzer” accent, a particular and difficult dialect to replicate for actors not from the area. The only exception would be actor Christopher Denham, whose otherwise flawless and at times comical performance as Police Chief Peter Trask was marred by the fluctuating presence of his Pittsburgh accent, always subtle but disappearing and reappearing at random.

Visually, the town of Braden is a hilly, slightly decrepit aging steel town. To Pittsburgh-native viewers, it will look like home as much as the actors sound like home. Nearly every establishing shot has a river, bridge or mill on the horizon. The colors are warm, the clothes are old, the houses are run-down. Perfectly, maybe poetically, in one scene near the beginning of the first episode, as the steel industry is collapsing and taking Braden with it, a single, anachronistically modern and clean self-driving car passes through town, to the puzzlement of Drimmer.

One Dollar is a murder mystery, yes, but it is a horror story for the last survivors of rust-belt America. It is a story where every character is at the end of their rope, and trapped in the shadow of the steel mill in the distance. For Pittsburghers, One Dollar is a must-see.