Mennonites get pulled into drug-smuggling – and can’t get out – in WGN America’s ‘Pure’

‘Pure’ – Mennonites as drug mules

Ryan Robbins and Alex Paxton-Beesley star in “Pure,” premiering Wednesday on WGN America.

We often think of Mennonites as devoutly religious people who live simple lives free from the less-than-desireable aspects of modern existence. But a series premiering this week on WGN America shows that they, too, are not immune to the horrors of the 21st century.

In “Pure,” an hourlong drama premiering Wednesday, Jan. 23, we are introduced to the Funk family, whose patriarch Noah (Ryan Robbins, “Arrow,” “The Killing”) is a newly elected Mennonite pastor who vows to rid his rural Pennsylvania community of drugs and corruption with the help of his devoted wife Anna (Alex Paxton-Beesley, “The Strain,” “Murdoch Mysteries”).

But the lure of easy money proves too great for Noah, who agrees to smuggle drugs from Mexico one time for a crime syndicate in return for a large payoff, but an unfortunate series of events ensures that getting out won’t be as easy as he thought.

“What better mule than a Mennonite, a person of the cloth?” Robbins says. “I don’t think you would expect them. … And somebody had the idea to approach a particular Mennonite and his family and offer him this opportunity. And it’s really easy to, I think, get caught up in these kinds of things when you think, ‘Oh, it’s a simple opportunity that will be better for my people for a short time and then I will just get out.’ But as we all know, the getting out is the hard part.”

Ryan Robbins stars in “Pure,” premiering Wednesday on WGN America.

“We’re sort of put into an impossible position,” Paxton-Beesley adds, “where we are forced to confront what’s going on and we’re really implicated against our wishes. And that’s where, for me, Anna became really fascinating because when you’re confronted with these really difficult decisions where it feels like there is no obvious right choice, what her priorities are is always really interesting to me. And the journey of that through Season 1, what those priorities are and then how they may grow or change through Season 2 was really interesting to be on the inside of.”

Filmed in Nova Scotia, Canada, the series is based on actual events. To play their characters, the actors had access to a Mennonite consultant, who advised them on the culture, the language and the belief system. And while this story contains elements of truth, Robbins is quick to assert that the great majority of Mennonites are God-fearing, law-abiding folks.

“We certainly don’t paint Mennonites in a bad light at all,” Robbins says. “It’s just the opposite. We’re trying to show these people, they’re just characters that are struggling to be good, to continue to be good in this really crazy world that’s just sort of pitting nothing but bad against them, and that’s the nature of the story. Just trying to fight through all of the trash to find the light.”

George Dickie

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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