TV Tattle News & Opinion

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      • CBS cancels All Rise and The Unicorn after two seasons
        Source: Variety

        The Simone Missick-led legal drama All Rise has been canceled after two seasons after facing behind-the-scenes turmoil in its writers' room since its first season, problems that led to creator and co-showrunner Greg Spottiswood's firing in March. All Rise dealt with the lives and relationships of the judges, lawyers, clerks, and law enforcement officers who work at the Los Angeles County Courthouse. Walton Goggins starred in The Unicorn, which was also canceled after two seasons. The comedy followed a single dad who began taking steps to start dating again after his wife's death. "From the get-go, the single-camera Unicorn, starring Walton Goggins, has been, well, an unicorn, on CBS, not quite fitting into the network’s traditional sitcom mold," reports Deadline's Nellie Andreeva. "Yet, the series, which was well received by critics and features one of the strongest comedy casts on TV, had big fans at the highest ranks at CBS, which helped it snag a Season 2 renewal last year for a limited midseason run, which concluded in March. The Unicorn’s linear ratings were among the lowest on CBS but its Live+Same Day delivery was actually higher than that for the renewed S.W.A.T. More than ever this year, it comes down to economics as CBS — and the rest of the broadcast networks — are making their renewal decisions.

        # TOPICS: All Rise, The Unicorn, Greg Spottiswood, Simone Missick, Walton Goggins, Cancelations, Renewals & Pickups

      • CBS renews Chuck Lorre comedies B Positive and United States of AI for Season 2
        Source: TVLine

        The two freshmen sitcoms have each scored a second season after premiering last November and last month, respectively.

        # TOPICS: B Positive, CBS, The United States of Al, Chuck Lorre, Cancelations, Renewals & Pickups

      • NBC execs privately regret waiting to cancel next year's Golden Globes after boycott threats
        Source: Los Angeles Times

        The Los Angeles Times reports that "several (NBC) executives now privately acknowledge they made several public relations miscalculations. Instead of taking a leadership role, the venerable broadcaster’s hand ultimately was forced by prominent producers Shonda Rhimes and Ava DuVernay, A-list actors Mark Ruffalo and Scarlett Johansson, the Time’s Up organization, a coalition of publicists and rival streaming giants Netflix and Amazon Studios. Facing an embarrassing boycott of next year’s awards show by much of the industry, NBC announced Monday that it was pulling the plug on the 2022 Golden Globes telecast to give the HFPA, which was formed in 1943, time to carry out a series of planned reforms." As The Times notes, NBC's stance was complicated by its eight-year, $500-million TV rights deal for the Globes that it signed in 2018 and the fact its contract is actually with Dick Clark Productions, and not the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. “NBC should have been leading the charge to demand reform and improvement,” said Shawna Kidman, a communication professor at UC San Diego. “But NBC lost the narrative. They allowed these new companies, like Netflix and Amazon, to come in and take a stand for diversity and change and it seemed like the old media companies, like NBC, didn’t care about diversity and change — even if that’s not true.”

        # TOPICS: Golden Globe Awards, NBC, Award Shows, Hollywood Foreign Press Association

      • Don Lemon's CNN show returns Monday with a new name: Don Lemon Tonight
        Source: Variety

        Lemon caused a frenzy when he said Friday night that it was "the end of an era" for CNN Tonight with Don Lemon. "Didn’t mean to set the internet on fire," Lemon tweeted Saturday morning. "What I said last night was true. CNN Tonight with Don Lemon is no more. I’ll be back on Monday with my newly named show Don Lemon Tonight. See you Monday at 10pE."

        # TOPICS: Don Lemon, CNN, Don Lemon Tonight, Cable News

      • Marv Albert to retire after the NBA playoffs
        Source: New York Post

        TNT, where the legendary sports broadcaster has called games for the past two decades, plans to pay tribute during the playoffs. Albert turns 80 next month. As New York Post notes, Albert has been calling professional games for nearly 60 years and is considered by most the greatest NBA play-by-player of all-time.

        # TOPICS: Marv Albert, TNT, NBA

      • For Life star Nicholas Pinnock: Don't blame ABC for cancelation
        Source: TVLine

        “I am in no way bitter with ABC for not renewing For Life for a third season,” the actor tweeted this morning, saying that ABC has been "nothing but supportive." He added: "Sadly, the live audience numbers didn’t reflect and equal the social media reaction. The catch up numbers were really good but that just doesn’t fit the model of a network show as they’re not a streamer. If we do manage to secure another home for FL...It’ll be up to you guys, our loyal fans, to continue to show your support for us because I can promise you this, we will continue to make a show that is beyond worthy of your time and engagement." Meanwhile, Deadline reported last night that For Life could be revived at Hulu.

        # TOPICS: For Life, ABC, Nicholas Pinnock

      • Jeopardy! fans praise the show for predicting the future with "Bennifer" clue
        Source: People

        A clue on Bill Whitaker's final night as guest-host read, "As a couple, they were known as 'Bennifer.'" The episode had been taped weeks ago, yet Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck have been in the news recently for potentially rekindling their early 2000s romance.

        # TOPICS: Jeopardy!, Ben Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, Game Shows

      • Joe Exotic claims he has prostate cancer in new request to be released from prison
        Source: TMZ

        "My body is tired, I have lost a tremendous amount of weight, the mouth sores are out of control, I throw up more than I eat," the Tiger King star's Twitter account tweeted Friday.

        # TOPICS: Joe Exotic

    • Earlier news - posted 1 day ago
      • It's not just Girls5eva: TV is starting to sound like 30 Rock jokes
        Source: The Daily Beast

        "'MILF Island' was one of 30 Rock’s best jokes, a fake reality series dreamed up by Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy that was so outlandish in premise it could only be a comedy-series gag, but so cynically observant about where society was heading in its craven tastes that it only barely counts as satire," says Kevin Fallon. "You could say the same about 'God Cop' ('Crime just got a worst new friend'), the game show 'Homonym!' ('au pair' or 'oh, pear'), and 'Black Frasier' (no tagline needed). Jenna Maroney’s ridiculous stint on 'America’s Kidz Got Singing' is even given a self-referential send-up in Tina Fey’s new series Girls5eva, on which Renée Elise Goldsberry’s character is hired to judge 'American Warrior Singer': 'I loved your vocals and your backstory was moving, but you left your neck unprotected so it’s a no from me.' Who knew how prescient all of those jokes would be in the age of the streaming boom, in which new streaming services and content to fill them are announced every day and the bar for what discerning viewers will actually watch is apparently in the basement. The announcement (last) week that NBC would be making an actual televised game show called Ultimate Slip ’N Slide, based on the summer backyard toy, would seem outrageous had game-show versions of putt-putt golf, tag, and even 'the floor is lava' not already existed. (To be fair, Floor Is Lava is a delight.)"


        # TOPICS: Girls5eva, Peacock, 30 Rock, Meredith Scardino, Tina Fey, Retro TV

      • Mare of Easttown is so compelling because it depicts the bizarre minutiae of real people
        Source: The Ringer

        "Sure, Mare of Easttown is a grim, small-town murder show so typical to the prestige crime genre that it’s already inspired an SNL spoof featuring Kate McKinnon vaping a soft pretzel while explaining that she’s a grandma by virtue of being 'a Philly 40,'" says Jodi Walker. "But as audiences who have slowly made their way to the weekly series have discovered, there’s something else there. Orbiting around the signature murdered/missing girls, as pursued by the brooding detective with a dangerous devotion to justice, are itty-bitty scenes depicting the bizarre minutiae that comes with being a real person who lives in a real place and gets real hammered on real Jameson. 'The writers clearly Googled,' exclaims the Delco Daily in the SNL parody. 'They knew the foods and the towns!' That’s both accurate and funny, but obviously not the whole story. Because yes, this show is set in a town in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, so a lot of the show’s best details revolve around turning 'daughter' into a four-syllable word, and discussing different kinds of sandwiches and where to get them (Coco’s for cheesesteaks, Laspadas for hoagies, Wawa for miscellaneous). But I’d wager that what takes Mare of Easttown beyond parody is that writer and show creator Brad Ingelsby also knows people. When he writes them, he knows what concerts they’ve been to and what games they like to play on their iPad, and whether they’re the heartbreaker or the heartbroken—and so we get to know that too. Mare of Easttown is still incredibly dark, but its moments of specificity manage to be so humanizing that they act as a sort of life raft to get us through the bleak and murky waters of investigating who murdered Erin McMenamin and kidnapped Katie Bailey. World-building is not a storytelling technique reserved for the fantasy genre, and alongside Inglesby’s scripts, Craig Zobel’s mastery of mise-en-scène brings a surprising amount of humor—and, dare I say, joy—to what could otherwise be just another budget whodunit."


        # TOPICS: Mare of Easttown, HBO, Jean Smart, Lawrence Davis, Music and TV

      • Netflix is exerting its power to frame Colton Underwood's coming out story as it did to demonize Carole Baskin
        Source: reality blurred

        As Reality Blurred's Andy Dehnart points out, Netflix can be very powerful in the ways it portrays people. Tiger King's directors, for instance, purposefully left out Joe Exotic's racism and other “unsettling,” “horrible things” because it did not fit their narrative about him -- while Baskin got the villain edit that portrayed her as a potential killer. "Netflix was okay with 'the story' that Tiger King decided to tell, one that sanitized the presentation of a man convicted of trying to murder a rival," says Dehnart. "Netflix was also okay with an entire episode that was edited in such a compelling way that has convinced many people that Carole Baskin killed her husband. Now Netflix wants us to trust it as it gives the world’s largest entertainment platform to Colton Underwood. The former star of The Bachelor recently come out as gay, just months after his ex (Cassie Randolph) was granted a restraining order after detailing, in court documents, 'unsettling text messages' and 'a tracking device on her vehicles.” The restraining order was dropped months later because of 'a private agreement' between them. Both Netflix’s efforts to convince us that giving Colton a platform and attention is an excellent idea, and Colton’s efforts to blame his abusive behavior on being closeted, received a big assist from Variety‘s cover story this week. The story, written by Elizabeth Wagmeister, is very detailed, and has the kind of depth I typically want from great long-form journalism, and about reality TV show production. It offers some history and context about the representation of gay people on television, and how rarely queer love stories are centered, and also includes information about the show that’s being produced. The piece also quotes Raffy Ermac,’s editor, who says, 'we shouldn’t be glorifying someone who has this history of allegedly stalking a woman,' and yet the story does exactly that. The cover frames the events of the past year as Colton’s 'Controversial Confession,' and the story is illustrated by sexy black-and-white photos, including one of Colton gazing directly into the camera lens while tugging at his shirt collar—a shirt from John Varvatos. Variety is helping Colton with his image so much they provided him with two stylists, designer clothing, and a professional photographer, never mind more than 3,700 mostly sympathetic words."

        # TOPICS: Colton Underwood, Netflix, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, Untitled Colton Underwood Netflix reality show, Carole Baskin, Reality TV

      • Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist creator is optimistic about a Season 3 renewal, either on NBC or Peacock
        Source: TVLine

        "I know that we have a really passionate fanbase that really cares about the show," says Austin Winsberg. "I know we have a lot of internal support at NBC. So I’m cautiously optimistic that good things will happen, but we don’t know yet” what the show’s fate will be. ALSO: Inside Zoey's dance-proof set design.

        # TOPICS: Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, NBC, Austin Winsberg

      • Blue Bloods' Season 11 finale was designed as a potential series finale
        Source: Deadline

        Showrunner Kevin Wade was told before Thanksgiving that the Season 11 finale would comprise of two episodes airing back to back. So he assumed that the scheduling meant CBS planned to end the series. "Yeah, so I started to think about how do we do something that could serve as a season finale but also if need be as a series finale," he tells Deadline. "We went back to the end of the first season where all the Reagans became involved in finding out and catching and bringing to justice the bad cops who killed Joe Reagan who is of course, Joe Hill’s father. And it was kind of a callback to that, just in case it was a series finale it would have a circle to it."

        # TOPICS: Blue Bloods, CBS, Kevin Wade

      • Netflix explains how its “Popular on Netflix” and “Trending" features are actually personalized
        Source: Vulture

        Both features "sure sound like Nielsen-like rankings of what’s hot in the U.S. or the rest of the world. Turns out they’re not," says Josef Adalian. Mariam Braimah, lead product designer for the Netflix TV app, explains that the two categories are “actually personalized content that also happens to be popular.” Adalian adds: "In other words, Netflix figures out the shows you’re most likely to enjoy, and then tells you which of those titles are currently getting a bunch of streams. If you’ve watched a lot of true-crime shows, then there’s a good chance The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel was 'trending' for you when it came out earlier this year. But if you’re super into comedies, Schitt’s Creek and New Girl are going to be popping up in that row a lot. The streamer isn’t alone in using fuzzy definitions to define popularity: Twitter has long customized its trending topics in part based on who users follow on the service."

        # TOPICS: Netflix, Mariam Braimah

      • Showtime's Ziwe uses fashion like a weapon
        Source: The New York Times

        "On Ziwe, whether during a confrontational interview or parody music video, (Ziwe) Fumudoh plays an audacious, quick-witted consumerist, whose attitude and armor is inspired by an unholy marriage of Dionne from Clueless and Paris Hilton in The Simple Life, along with a few other ultrafeminine pop culture figures of the 1990s and aughts," says Jessica Testa. "As a comedian who became famous for making people uncomfortable with questions about race and class, Ms. Fumudoh, 29, uses fashion like a weapon, creating an air of innocence with her Delia’s catalog looks, then slicing through it with the sharp heel of a Barbie stiletto. She is also an exceptionally physical performer, writhing and jumping through her musical numbers, whether channeling a jazzy Chicago siren or a girl-group member, circa 1999." ALSO: Ziwe’s aggressive awkwardness is perfect for her show's audience-free setting.

        # TOPICS: Ziwe, Showtime, Ziwe Fumudoh

      • The Resident boss says the Fox show has won praise from real-life medical professionals for tackling real-world problems
        Source: CNN

        The bubble medical drama, which ends its fourth season on Tuesday, was "really the first show to show problems in medicine and to really attack them and we took a lot of flack from doctors all across the country saying, 'Why are you doing this?' Doctors are heroes, et cetera, et cetera," says showrunner Andrew Chapman. "And we said, 'Yeah, doctors are heroes. Absolutely. But there are issues out there and you have to deal with these issues. Over the course of our now four seasons to run into people who are in the healthcare world, to have them come to me and go, 'Oh, you work on The Resident? I love that show. It's so true that this is a problem and that we deal with that problem all the time.' That's incredibly fulfilling to me."

        # TOPICS: The Resident, FOX, Andrew Chapman

      • High School Musical: The Musical: The Series returns stronger in Season 2
        Source: The A.V. Club

        "Show creator Tim Federle found a striking balance between grounded sentiment and buzzy musical theater that made this take a worthy and distinguishable adaptation," says Shannon Miller of the first season. "Also, the talent emanating from the young cast certainly didn’t hurt matters. In its second season, HSM: TM: TS faces a new challenge: proving that season one’s successful execution wasn’t a fluke. After all, the finale ended with a (mostly) successful teen production of High School Musical: The Musical. Technically, they did the thing. What’s left to accomplish? Well, a brand new spring musical, for starters. Also, fans likely remain curious about the fates of Nini (Olivia Rodrigo), who earns an opportunity to study theater at a prestigious performing arts school in Denver, and Gina (Sofia Wylie), who faces the possibility of moving away. It was clear last season that the series had more stories to tell, and the first three episodes of season two absolutely provide as much. While early episodes hint toward a couple of missed opportunities to improve upon itself, HSM: TM: TS makes up for it with stronger character development and a viable plan to move the story beyond its origins. And the best way to achieve said progress is, ironically, to move on from the HSM universe." ALSO: HSM: TM: TS' choreographer breaks down the Season 2 opening number.

        # TOPICS: High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, Disney+

      • The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers' inclusivity is what makes it so special
        Source: The Mary Sue

        "Rather than JUST having one girl on the team (not that Connie, played by Marguerite Moreau, wasn’t badass growing up), there are three girls, and one of their best players is Sofi (Sway Bhatia)," says Rachel Leishman. "All of the kids of the Don’t Bothers are incredible wholesome, and watching them grow as players and as a team had me cheering and crying on my couch in the same way that The Mighty Ducks movies did growing up. What’s beautiful about this show is that I never saw a moment where it was about someone’s inability based on gender or sexuality. Everyone is embraced for what makes them unique, and even when they do have their fights (like in the most recent episode, when the team learned that Evan almost went back to the Ducks), they still come together as a team—especially when people like Sam (De’Jon Watts) feel unwanted and unnecessary on the team and they all have to join together to show Sam how much they need him and are friends."

        # TOPICS: The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers, Disney+

      • Love, Death & Robots continues to be a vague, mystifying catch-all show in Season 2
        Source: Indiewire

        "The show isn’t made inherently better by the smaller episode order, but from a curation standpoint, Season 2 has weeded out more of the chapters that offer little besides an aesthetic," says Steve Greene of the eight-episode second season, down from the 18-episode Season 1. "The least satisfying episodes of Love, Death & Robots are transparent technical exercises, designed around proving that something can exist on screen rather than proving that it should. In Season 2, most of these shorts at least have an idea that they’re wrestling with, even if the execution of the animation itself is more successful than the performances and characters that make up part of it."

        # TOPICS: Love, Death & Robots, Netflix

      • FX's Pride nails its attempt to capture 60 years of LGBTQ history in just six episodes
        Source: TIME

        "Pop culture may be a crucial tool in effecting change, but for oppressed groups and their respective liberation movements, mainstream representation is often a mixed blessing," says Judy Berman. "Well-meaning TV shows and movies can nonetheless make spectacles of Black pain or paint feminists as unhinged. For decades, it was rare to see LGBTQ characters who didn’t conform to broad stereotypes or meet with tragic ends; trans people tended to fare worst of all. Even in the 21st century, as sympathetic depictions from The L Word and Bravo’s Queer Eye for the Straight Guy to The L Word: Generation Q and Netflix’s Queer Eye have coincided with real political progress, pop culture has struggled to expand its narrow view of queer and trans life. The problem with making art that aims to represent any community of millions is that it means doing justice to that community’s vast diversity. More than anything else I’ve seen on TV, FX’s excellent Pride nails it. The six-episode docuseries, airing in two parts on May 14 and 21, traces the history of LGBTQ civil rights from the 1950s through the 2000s, with an hour devoted to each decade. But instead of entrusting the entire project to the same director, producers from VICE Studios and Killer Films—a venerable independent production company that was pivotal in the New Queer Cinema movement of the ’90s—recruited a different notable queer, trans or nonbinary filmmaker to make each episode. The decision to let those smartly chosen contributors tell stories that resonate with them, in styles that reflect each director’s unique voice, yields a history that is artful, complex and vital without being monolithic."


        • Pride's approach using different directors results in episodes that are hit or miss: "Pride takes a decade-by-decade look at LGBTQ+ life and the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights starting in the 1950s and carrying through to the 2000s, with each installment hailing from a different LGBTQ+ filmmaker," says Daniel Fienberg. "It’s hard to exactly pinpoint the dictates passed along to each filmmaker, and the result is that each hour is maybe half personal reflection on a tumultuous moment and half Wikipedia summary just to make sure that somebody who accidentally stumbles upon Pride won’t be entirely flummoxed. It’s a recipe for wildly varying levels of aesthetic inspiration and baked-in unevenness both from episode to episode and within episodes."
        • Pride is powerful, loud and honest and feminist: "This series emphasizes that it wasn’t all Stonewall. Sure, this was the riot that got the nation’s attention," says Lyra Hale. "But FX’s Pride makes sure to point out that LGBTQ people were fighting for their rights long before Stonewall and will continue doing so long after Stonewall. This distinction helps to emphasize the point that our fight continues to this day and that there are places and stories in our LGBTQ that we don’t know about and have been overshadowed by others. And finally, this series teaches all of us as LGBTQ people, that we are not alone. Our struggles are felt by those in the community. And there will always be a helping out there to remind you that we aren’t going anywhere. No matter how much they shout, cry, or try to take away our rights. We are here to stay and a part of that is learning our history as a means of empowering ourselves."

        # TOPICS: Pride (FX series), FX, Documentaries, LGBTQ

      • Starz's Run the World is honest, witty and at times heartbreaking -- a lovely window into the lives of four Black women
        Source: The A.V. Club

        "A great deal of Run The World’s premise centers on the towering burdens placed upon Black women by society, within the Black community, and of course, the expectations they place upon themselves," Aramide Tinubu says of the Starz dramedy from creator Leigh Davenport, who is executive producing with Living Single creator Yvette Lee Bowser. "Though the characters are imperfect, they continue to push back against society’s desire to humble Black women or make them feel grateful for positions and roles they’ve painstaking earned. Also, despite the friends’ overarching desires to have it all when it comes to their personal and professional lives, the series examines how fear can inadvertently lead to self-sabotage. For much of its eight-episode first season, Run the World is refreshing, although some cheesy and over-the-top comedic references cause occasional stumbles. There is a cringe-worthy reference to Harriet Tubman following an awkward sexual encounter. Later in the season, Renee stands up for herself at work, and what begins as a powerful and witty scene eventually descends into chaos, when it could’ve been one of the strongest points of the series. Yet there are more moments when the series feels grounded in real life...With its compelling cast, homage to Harlem in both the present and the past, and a stronger back end of the season, Run The World offers a lovely window into the lives of four Black women. It’s honest, witty, and at times heartbreaking. As in real life, the women at the center of the series know that they can hold on to one another when all else fails."


        • If Run the World isn’t copying its many ancestors, it’s a worthy successor to them: The Starz dramedy "smart and sweet and full of the kind of energy that can spark when old friends hang out together," says Alan Sepinwall. "beginning a new job at a website run by Barb. She’s also the only one of the quartet not in a long-term relationship. Renee is married to Jason (Jay Walker), Whitney is in the final stages of planning her wedding to Ola (Tosin Morohunfola), and Sondi is clandestinely dating her thesis advisor Matthew (Stephen Bishop) and helping to raise his young daughter. It will probably not surprise you to learn that this is not the configuration in which they all end the season, though Davenport, Bowser, and company are at least as interested in the women’s friendships as their love lives, if not more. The four leads have fantastic chemistry with one another, whether all in a group or broken down into twos and threes."
        • Creator Leigh Davenport: "Run the World was created out of a sense of rebellion": "It was startling, honestly, when I realized in my mid-20s that I was still actively searching for authentic and relatable reflections of myself on television," she says, adding: "It was 2009, and it seemed everyone had something to say about Black womanhood. There was this whole, 'You need to "think like a man" and change everything about yourself to "find your Barack"' moment happening. It felt a bit like hysteria—the articles about single Black women being the least desired on dating apps, the statistics about all the Black men in prison, the NBC Nightly News special 'African-American Women: Where They Stand.' (Yes, that really aired, and it was a five-night event. ABC followed suit with a Nightline special of its own.) Even Oprah was in the conversation. 'Ladies!' she bellowed on an unforgettable episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show, “Seventy percent of Black women are single!!!” The message was pervasive and clear: Single, smart, successful Black women were in crisis. But…were we? Honestly, even though I was an unemployed disaster at the time (damn you, financial crash of 2008), I wasn’t buying it. I was surrounded by phenomenal women of all ages— smart, independent, loving, laughing, and mostly having a blast."
        • Davenport on working with Living Single creator Yvette Lee Bowser: "She’s a legend in this industry. She’s touched every seminal African American show of my generation," says Davenport. "And so to have her get on board and get behind me, and to set the tone of the show and to strongly support me by amplifying my voice and my vision was incredible. And to have the heft of what she knows and her experience, has really sharpened me and brought so much elevation to the project." Daveport adds that while Run the World focuses on Black women, it should relatable to everybody with its central theme of friendship. “No matter your ethnicity, you want a group of real friends," she says. "Seeing girls that support each other and rag on each other and give each other crap and love each other, that’s relatable and that’s bigger than any artificial barriers,” she says, “so I just want people to enjoy their bond and enjoy the fun. If they come for the comedy and if they learn something about the culture and the community, then that’s an added amazing bonus.”
        • Bresha Webb and Amber Stevens West. could relate to all the characters when they first read the Run the World script

        # TOPICS: Run the World, Starz, Amber Stevens West, Bresha Webb, Leigh Davenport, Yvette Lee Bowser

      • Netflix's Halston does a poor job of dramatizing what was so special about its title character
        Source: Rolling Stone

        "In the final episode of Netflix’s Halston, the iconic fashion designer, played by Ewan McGregor, asks his assistant to sum up what the critics are saying about his latest collection," says Alan Sepinwall. "She suggests they are disappointed with where his career has gone, given that, 'at one point, you reinvented women’s fashion — wrapped a woman in a feeling, in your taste.' This is an eyebrow-raising comment, not because it’s an inaccurate summation of Halston’s impact in his field, but because Halston the miniseries has done such a poor job of dramatizing what was so special about its title character. It is the first moment of the show that adequately conveys why Halston was such a big deal, and why Ryan Murphy and his collaborators have come together to celebrate his life and work. Halston follows a familiar rise-and-fall biopic structure. But despite the obvious affection all involved have for their subject (the writers include Murphy, his frequent collaborator Ian Brennan, and playwright Sharr White, among others), the details of the designer’s fall come through much more clearly than those of his rise." Sepinwall adds: "Most of Murphy’s shows under his huge Netflix deal, like The Politician and Ratched, have run into trouble for trying to do too many things, none of them well. Halston in contrast is underbaked rather than overstuffed. Everything feels too flimsy, including Ewan McGregor in the lead role. The real Halston was something of a character created by the boy who was born Roy Halston Frowick, but McGregor never takes us below the surface of that character. It’s as if he worked out the voice and a few gestures and stopped there."


        • Halston is intermittently fascinating but mostly frustrating: "Murphy and Co. had their work cut out for them in distilling decades of the Studio 54 staple’s eventful life into just five episodes," says Judy Berman. "No wonder the result is a mixed bag, squandering rich materials through shoddy construction. The production design is exquisite. Halston recreates historic moments like the 1973 France-vs.-U.S. fashion showdown at Versailles in elaborate detail. But even in quotidian settings, the series uses color in a way that has real emotional resonance. In one early scene, a striking scarlet gown captures the designer’s bold ambitions; episodes later, in Halston’s overstimulated ’80s, the same intense color invades his own wardrobe and office decor. Blood-red carpets are certainly a choice...This is the kind of true story that lends itself to cliché, and to their credit, Murphy’s team declines to deliver some of the most egregious possible scenes: the cocaine-fueled meltdown, the agonizing death from AIDS, Andy Warhol’s nightlife menagerie. But for the most part, the man who helped usher in an Ultrasuede future is constructed from materials we’ve seen many times before: an outsider running from childhood trauma. A drug problem that starts, for a man who works all day and parties all night, as a drug solution. The Faustian bargain that is sacrificing artistic ideals for cash money. If anyone is wrestling their own demons through Halston, we can only conclude that the conflict remains unresolved."
        • Halston is littered with incidents that seem like they could be focal events if only Halston had focus, or structuring devices if only the show had structure: "Halston is not as bizarrely conceived as Ratched or as maddeningly inconsistent (and finally bad) as The Politician, but it’s lacking enough in perspective and structure to make one wonder about the sort of creative nurturing the Ryan Murphy brand is getting at Netflix — and if he, like his version of Halston, isn’t starting to miss creating for the sake of art and the rave reviews," says Daniel Fienberg. He adds: "There are bursts in which the writing, but mostly really (Dan) Minahan’s direction, is able to zero in on parts of Halston’s process, peaking in a fifth-episode collaboration with Martha Graham that was the only time in the series I felt an iota of emotion. Mostly, though, Halston being Halston is reduced to Halston being told in declarative sentences that he’s Halston; Halston explaining to people in florid terms that he’s Halston; and the occasional musical montage interspersed with cocaine snorting. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the better part of two solid episodes alternates between Halston doing coke and various characters — principally Bill Pullman’s David Mahoney, David Pittu’s Joe Eula or Rebecca Dayan’s Elsa Peretti — telling Halston he’s doing so much cocaine that it’s keeping him from being Halston. It’s very pointed how often people in Halston say 'Halston,' but it’s also close to parody."
        • Halston makes it a lot of fun to get to know the legend of Halston, even if the Netflix miniseries skips over some of the most glamorous details of his life: "Bianca Jagger and Anjelica Huston, both dressed by Halston, are only name-dropped, and Andy Warhol, who partied with Halston at Studio 54 and was an inescapable icon of the moment, is merely mentioned in passing," says Sonia Saraiya. "There’s plenty worth examining that gets left on the table—chiefly, the particularly American struggle to reconcile creativity with output, and what happens when a vision and a corporation meet and shake hands. The story is also structured a bit strangely, telling more than showing us that Halston is an excellent designer, and giving us some of the most scrumptious details of his excess as his empire is falling to pieces around him. "Still, what it does recognize—and revels in, almost ridiculously—is how fixated fashion is on the label, the brand, the cult of personality, the name...What makes the whole thing work, start to finish, is McGregor’s huge, bizarre, involved, and inspired turn as Halston, which has the Scot expanding his vowels wide to make them ostensibly Midwestern. The character ends up sounding charmingly like McGregor’s turn as Catcher Block in the delightful satire Down with Love."
        • Halston's overuse of "Halston" is indicative of lazy writing: "Around the middle of the third episode of Halston, thanks to a mixture of boredom and fascination, I started counting every time someone said the name 'Halston,'" says Kathryn VanArendonk. "The new Netflix limited series is about the fashion designer Roy Halston, and sometimes characters say the name to point at the brand: 'This bottle says "Halston!"' or 'Now that’s a Halston.' Often it’s just part of the dialogue, an unrelenting verbal tic. 'Good morning, Halston.' 'You’re an a**hole, Halston!' 'Halston, you’re a genius!' 'You’re out of control, Halston!' From somewhere midway through episode three until the series conclusion at the end of episode five, I counted 114 Halstons, plus three times someone called him 'H' to shake things up. There’s a generous way to read this absurd proliferation. As it’s told here, the Halston story is entirely about the name. Portrayed by Ewan McGregor, Halston is a man so desperate to turn himself into a legend that he trades away his name too freely. He wanted Halston to be a bespoke, rarefied brand, but fear and carelessness turned the name into ubiquitous department-store fodder. Once it was on everything, the Halston name meant nothing. Brand dilution is the story’s chief tragedy — which is really saying something, given that its subject dies of AIDS. From that vantage point, the inescapable drumbeat of Halston, Halston, Halston in the dialogue could be read as a purposeful reenactment of the exact trap that caught Halston himself. The word becomes empty because it is omnipresent. By my count, the last two episodes average one 'Halston' per minute. The less charitable reading is that the writing in Halston is simply lazy."
        • Surprisingly, Halston features none of the Ryan Murphy repertory players, but some of his other hallmarks are very much in place: "Outsiders, power dynamics, queer leads, musical numbers," says Danette Chavez. "Though Halston is undeniably a group effort, built around Ewan McGregor’s oft-canny performance, it’s still destined to be dubbed a 'Ryan Murphy show,' with all the baggage that comes with that term. And yet, the docudrama somehow manages to skimp on that 'Murphy-ness'—it’s nowhere near as campy or heightened or as absurd as it ought to be, even if those qualities usually set Murphy’s shows up to go off the rails. When Bianca Jagger appears astride a horse in the middle of the dance floor, it’s in more of an obligatory “1970s’ greatest hits” compilation manner than a rococo moment. The story’s overindulgences are limited to coke-snorting scenes and utterances of 'Halston,' which number in the hundreds. The sex scenes are often a whirl of clothes, which is maybe fitting. As exquisite as the limited series’ production and costume designs are, there’s more wonder and humor in one of the designer’s old perfume commercials."
        • Halston seems to be responding to its own shortfalls in real time: "McGregor tries his best," says Daniel D'Addario. "He’s certainly given a lot to play: Halston is extravagant, courtly, an addict in the thrall of many substances, attention most of all. He has a careful eye both for the drape of a garment and for the right thing to say in conversation with a more powerful person. To its credit, the show’s scripts have a sophisticated understanding of, say, the dynamic between Halston and Liza Minnelli (Krysta Rodriguez), the star who to Halston is everything; she views him as a wonderful pal. This unbridgeable gap leaves Halston lonely and unfulfilled — he feels a sorrowful ambiguity when she gets married. What’s more, for reasons historical as well as personal to a rigid aesthete, he cannot find real romantic love. Gay life in 1970s New York is depicted as isolating; Halston, alternately a homebody and a riotous, financially profligate extrovert who uses the party as a place to hide, is further isolated, even from himself. This is not a new lane for Murphy, and once again it seems revolutionary — how rare to make an entire five-episode series dedicated to amplifying such a sour, cynical note — until one realizes there is nowhere for this story to go. Certainly the notion that the modern history of gay life is one as colored by repression and self-loathing as much as by the power of expression is a rich vein throughout Murphy’s work."
        • For all the thrill of the parties and glamour, Halston rarely goes deeper when it needs to: "There is a lot of talk of deals lost, of investments and scaling up and churning out 'it items' such as high-end blue jeans," says Rebecca Nicholson. "This is the substance of the story, no doubt – it argues that Halston’s name was sullied by just how much stuff he put his name to – but it comes at the cost of characterisation. This is only five episodes long, but it takes time to earn viewers’ sympathy for the main character, and it isn’t until the last two episodes that it really gets under his skin...That said, by the latter half of this entertaining and often very funny drama (and it is worth the asking price to see McGregor hamming it up when he is asked to cut his flower budget – 'Orchids are part of my process. You can’t put a budget on inspiration!'), I found that I had been won over by Halston, excesses, business troubles and all."
        • Ryan Murphy's focus seems to say more about who’s telling Halston’s story than Halston himself: "Ryan Murphy rose to prominence working with Fox, whether it was through broadcast hits like Glee or FX award-winners like Nip/Tuck and American Horror Story. Even after starting another widely respected anthology series in American Crime Story, he signed a deal with Netflix to the tune of $300 million — and hasn’t made anything with artistic merit since. The Politician, Hollywood, and the aforementioned nadir in Ratched have all been disappointments, so much so that three years after signing with the streamer, the question on everyone’s mind is, 'What happened to Ryan Murphy?' (This piece originally posed that very question in its headline.) Halston indicates he’s asking himself the same thing. Questions of legacy haunt the series: It’s the main reason Halston builds his empire in the first place, and it’s his greatest dread once he realizes what greed hath wrought. The look of stemmed revulsion that crosses Halston’s face when he’s forced into a $1 billion deal with J.C. Penney says it all. He never expected to sink so low....So if Ratched is Murphy’s J.C. Penney, than there’s reason to hope Halston is when he starts sobering up."
        • What's fact and what's fiction in Halston
        • See how much the Halston stars look like their real-life counterparts
        • Ewan McGregor's performance is shockingly accurate: Yes, Halston talked like that
        • Costume designer Jeriana San Juan on finding the freedom of the late designer's looks
        • Ewan McGregor learned to sew, drape and pin to play Halston: “I sent a sewing machine to his hotel room so that he could practice in his free time — he requested it, I didn’t force it on him! — but I just loved how interested he really was in being able to do it correctly,” says costume designer Jeriana San Juan, who became McGregor's tutor, adding: “Halfway through (the shutdown), he sent me an image of some amazing trousers he had made. I was almost in tears. My student had graduated on his own.”
        • Ewan McGregor became so possessed with Halston that sometimes he thought he was Halston: "There were just little moments,” he says, “where I felt like, ‘Oh, that was him.’ There was, like, a little curse, an eye roll or something where I felt that was it.”
        • McGregor wanted to play Halston after he was presented photographs of the late designer: “I was just really taken with the presentation," says McGregor. "He (director Dan Minahan) showed me all these photographs of Halston and the people in his circle — Liza Minnelli, (jewelry designer) Elsa Peretti, (his lover) Victor Hugo. And I could tell instantly from the photographs: I wanted to play him. Just something about the way he holds himself, something in his eyes.”

        # TOPICS: Halston (2021 series), Netflix, Ewan McGregor, Halston, Jeriana San Juan, Ryan Murphy, Sharr White

      • Barry Jenkins' The Underground Railroad is not only amazing television, but it shows the ways slavery still infects America
        Source: Vox

        Jenkins is the rare acclaimed movie director who knows how to make compelling television. "This series is a specific story about the treatment of one specific group of humans in one specific country. But it’s also a story about humans, and Jenkins gives you space to find yourself in it without sacrificing the focus of this story — even if you might not like what you see," says Emily VanDerWerff of the Amazon adaptation of Colson Whitehead's Pulitzer-winning novel. She adds: "Too often, when a great filmmaker makes a TV show, they simply stretch out their normal storytelling style to span more hours than they typically would. There’s a reason that Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn’s 10-episode Amazon series Too Old to Die Young barely made a ripple when it was released in the summer of 2019, even though it hailed from a hip young director: The thing was slow as molasses. The cool, hypnotic rhythms of Refn’s work became glacial when expanded to fill so many episodes, most of which were over an hour long. The Underground Railroad avoids this problem almost entirely. A couple of episodes sag, but for the most part, the series crafts a propulsive, episodic narrative whose storytelling draws from TV classics like The Twilight Zone and The Fugitive as Cora travels from place to place along a literal underground railroad — with a train and everything — trying to figure out precisely what’s wrong about every new location she finds herself in. A lot of this structure comes directly from Whitehead’s novel, whose central conceit took Cora from the realities of plantation slavery in the early 1800s through several locations that became metaphorical looks at the Black American experience after the Civil War...Jenkins and his team have not only kept the episodic structure of Whitehead’s novel but made it more pronounced in subtle ways. Each episode of the series could fairly easily stand alone as its own tale, with casual viewers having only the most cursory understanding of the main characters and their situation." VanDerWerff adds that what Jenkins does with The Underground Railroad that makes it so significant is taking any viewer, whether they be white or Black, into the mindset of runaway slave Cora. "I have no idea what white Americans who aren’t me will make of The Underground Railroad, but I do think Jenkins has found some ways around this dilemma," says VanDerWerff. "Notice how often he centers the act of viewing brutalities both grand and mundane: The early scene with the whipping, for instance, lingers on both the white audience and the Black audience for said whipping, observing the callousness with which the white viewers regard the spectacle, just so much window dressing for an afternoon picnic. The strange time dilation of Whitehead’s novel also helps the series avoid a certain distancing effect. With other stories about slavery, white viewers sometimes come away with the incorrect notion that the inhumanity of racism is confined to a handful of specific periods in history: Even if we’ve still got problems today, at least it’s not like that anymore. Once Cora leaves the plantation, the new worlds she moves through often have eerie resonances with the present, in ways that discombobulate viewers who might be tempted to resign these stories to the distant past. But perhaps Jenkins’s boldest gambit is one whose impact I’m only just now understanding as I write these words. I saw myself in Cora, despite our many obvious differences. She is in some ways an archetypal character, one who attempts to shed her past as efficiently as possible, only to realize getting rid of the past is never that easy. I want to shed my past, too, and have found it stickier than I hoped it would be. Healing wounds is sometimes a lifelong process, and Cora is a character onto whom anyone in the audience could project their own journeys through their own pain. That projection is good. It’s what art is for, on some level."


        • The Underground Railroad is a strenuous, brutal viewing not to be undertaken casually: "With The Underground Railroad Barry Jenkins transforms Colson Whitehead's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel into a robust dialogue understood through multiple senses," says Melanie McFarland. "The script is already potent before Jenkins layers in soundscapes: insects symphonies chittering and chirping in the fields suddenly falling silent, rumbling wheels on tracks in the dark, the cadent clang of a hammer on an anvil. Now layer in the visuals, which is where the Moonlight director exerts absolute mastery. Employing the language of color and tone, light and darkness, he and cinematographer James Laxton can tell a million different stories with sunlight alone. Golden late afternoon rays wrap the beleaguered in relief while that same yellow, captured only a bit earlier in the day, runs hotter to amplify the misery of toiling in cotton fields. The filmmaker does the same with shadow: the dark might hold questions or horrors. Sometimes it registers as blanket or shield. In one chilling scene meant to recall the crucifixion of Spartacus' army on Rome's Appian Way, the night obscures bodies hanging from trees. Being aware of the intense experiential nature of this limited series is crucial because it's a work that seeps in and stays with you. You'll be grateful for its permanence, at least relative to other shows, because it's the most worthwhile 10 episodes of TV given to us in a long while."
        • The Underground Railroad feels necessary because white America has tried so hard to deny, diminish or erase the shame of its racist past: Jenkins, says Eric Deggans, "is a director who makes Black folks look beautiful, even in the midst of crushing hardship and pain. His eye for color and majestic images transforms everything from burned-out swaths of Tennessee forest to the endless fields of cotton plantations into arresting tableaus. But he is also a filmmaker who takes his time in telling stories. Which means viewers must sit in the pain of traumatic moments, waiting for Jenkins to fully reveal the awfulness you know is coming. It's difficult to endure, especially if you already know the hard truths these moments are engineered to convey. Many of the more harrowing scenes in The Underground Railroad communicate familiar ideas. The role white jealousy plays in the drive to oppress Black people. The insidious way white culture convinces Black people to work toward their own oppression and the oppression of others. The many ways Black folks struggle to process and transcend trauma. The ways in which Black joy and peace can feel like the briefest of respites from a seemingly eternal struggle. That's why, in addition to feeling sorrow and disgust in watching those horrors realized onscreen, I also felt anger. Not just over the unfairness of it all, but for the way Black people have been forced, generation after generation, to expose our wounds from systemic racism, just to prove to the wider — often white — world that it exists at all. One reason why projects like The Underground Railroad feel so necessary, is because white America has tried so hard to deny, diminish or erase the shame of its racist past — refusing to acknowledge the connection between centuries of oppression and ongoing, current problems. This version of The Underground Railroad reaches us at a time when we are most prepared for its message, but severely challenged by its delivery system. We are nearly one year past the date of George Floyd's death; 12 months in which video capturing the brutality of this Black man's slow murder beneath the knee of white policeman Derek Chauvin has been played and replayed on screens large and small. Another wound, repeatedly ripped open. And even as footage of Floyd's death builds sympathy for the victims of systemic racism, it leaves many of us unable to stomach more images of Black lives snuffed out by prejudice and fear. But Jenkins' The Underground Railroad demands we endure another look."
        • The Underground Railroad presents the horror of slavery unlike any other movie or TV show: "Some viewers will understandably approach The Underground Railroad with trepidation: Jenkins presents the horrors of slavery in unflinching and relentless detail," says Bethonie Butler. "I’ve seen Roots (both the original and the 2016 remake), 12 Years a Slave, and WGN’s excellent but short-lived thriller Underground, but nothing comes close to the brutal violence depicted in The Underground Railroad. I used the pause button a lot — both to collect and to brace myself...The trauma of slavery runs like a current through the series, but pain is not the totality of Cora’s story — even in her darkest moments. The show is singular in the way it depicts the strength and perseverance of Black people, who have endured generations of abuse in a country built on paradoxical notions of freedom."
        • Jenkins makes a wide range of sadness beautiful, doing the same for strains of trauma and rays of joyful light: "By nature of its subject matter, The Underground Railroad is an often arduous journey — a tough watch, but a rapturous watch, with occasionally questionable narrative choices generally outweighed by a spell that’s at once poetic and grounded," says Daniel Fienberg. He adds: "When the pieces come together, The Underground Railroad is remarkable. The ninth episode — which, among other things, includes the climax of William Jackson Harper’s arc as a freeborn man who takes an interest in Cora; an explosive rhetorical debate between characters played by master dialogue-spinners Chukwudi Iwuji and Peter De Jersey; and the series’ most extended action set-piece — is one of the best things you’ll see on TV this year. It’s the perfect intersection of story and style, a pendulum swing between horror and hopefulness. The Underground Railroad sometimes falters. Jenkins never quite nails the Twilight Zone-esque unease of the South Carolina setting, or figures out how to build claustrophobia in the sections depicting Cora’s unnerving attic confinement. Still, it’s rare that Jenkins and cinematographer James Laxton let much time pass without a stretch of eye-popping imagery — and crucially never step over that delicate line into prettifying ugliness. Jenkins doesn’t hide from torture and abuse, but his concentration is more on soulful faces than battered bodies. The whole is enhanced by a rich, if sporadically overwhelming, sound design layering the natural and unnatural — cicadas commingled with the percussion of a train punctuated by the crackle of burning flesh."
        • The Underground Railroad is an American masterpiece: "The Underground Railroad employs aspects from traditional slave narratives, including sadistic torture and villainy, but it builds off these graphic scenes instead of making them the focus," says Ben Travers. "(The second episode feels like it’s calling out past movies and shows that defined Black characters primarily through pain, as white curators at a museum ostensibly founded to honor African American history emphasize cruelty over curiosity.) Later chapters also prove remarkable in their tenderness, as Jenkins’ trademark patience behind the camera builds romance and passion with powerful precision, establishing unique individual identities while fleshing out each subject, no matter how many scenes they get. Nothing in this world is untouched by slavery, and yet human nature at its purest still shines through, unvarnished, in far more characters and moments than anyone could imagine."
        • The Underground Railroad combines the skillsets of creative titans Barry Jenkins and Colson Whitehead with overwhelmingly excellent results: "Every episode of this show is a marvel of theme, character, and story that lives up to Whitehead's literary vision of magical realism and perseverance; simultaneously each installment is a magnificent showcase of performance and visual direction that proves Jenkins' mastery behind the camera is not limited to film and is instead a consistent, repeatable expression of his talent," says Alexis Nedd. "Both the show and Whitehead's book hew to the premise of an alternate reality where the underground railroad, which in our world was a network of safehouses and routes that Black people used to escape slavery, is an actual subterranean train system with stations, cars, and conductors. When Cora and Caesar, two enslaved people on a Georgia plantation, escape and board the train their first ride is only the beginning of a journey through a warped mirror image of the American south and beyond."
        • Barry Jenkins and cinematographer James Laxton flip the script on the Gone with the Wind portrayal of enslaved people: "The Southern 'gentlemen' and 'ladies' are clearly seen as twisted people, utterly indifferent to the suffering of others," says Stephen Robinson. "There’s no sweeping Max Steiner score either, as composer Nicholas Britell sets a more suitably sinister mood. These artistic choices ground The Underground Railroad in the perspective of the damned, the people whose misery keeps the mint juleps flowing. The psychopath, Alex, from A Clockwork Orange might hear Beethoven as he viciously attacks defenseless people, but there is no Singin’ In The Rain for the enslaved in America. Thanks to streaming services, such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, creators don’t have to choose between scraping by with a limited-series budget or cramming an epic story into a single movie’s two- or three-hour run time. Jenkins successfully adapted Baldwin’s brilliant If Beale Street Could Talk, but he stretches himself even further with The Underground Railroad. As the technical 'showrunner,' Jenkins directs all 10 episodes and writes several. It’s quite the undertaking, and Jenkins lets the series build momentum with each installment."
        • Don't binge-watch The Underground Railroad: "The entirety of The Underground Railroad — 10 episodes altogether, most running at least a full hour — will be available upon its May 14 premiere on Amazon Prime, but that is a mistake," says Caroline Framke. "The series is dense enough that each episode would, and should, stand on their own with enough space for viewers to digest it before moving on to the next. Instead, Amazon is releasing all of them in one fell swoop, making it far too easy for someone to muscle through too much without reprieve, or else shy away from the show entirely should it get too challenging. It’s hard not to imagine how Underground Railroad would fare if it were to unfold weekly, giving each installment a more lasting spotlight."
        • The history that Jenkins engages with, in addition to that of the country, is that of representational art: "He excavates the imprint of slavery on older artistic traditions: painting, photography, novels, and, especially, cinema, which since its inception has been entangled with slavery and the dehumanization of the Black form," says Doreen St. Felix. She adds: "Fraudulence is the contemporary Black artist’s fear; authenticity, his constant bugbear. Everyone wants to know the artist’s motive, and everyone wants to catch him being false. Because Jenkins’s source is a fiction, he is relatively free to thread his personal taste through the effort. There are differences, some slight and some significant, between the novel and the series, but to enumerate them would be to validate a false hierarchy of the source text and its adaptation. (I think Jenkins’s treatment is superior, more adult.) The Underground Railroad, which is about not being seen as much as it is about being seen, engages with the chaos of the slavery epic by way of the rhythms of slow cinema. Hallucinations of memories interrupt the action. Ridgeway captures Cora from the secret cradle of an abolitionist in North Carolina and leads her to judgment, along the Trail of Tears. But she cannot submit to subjugation. She runs to the river and attempts suicide, which looks so much like baptism. Ridgeway pulls her out of the water. Jenkins does not leave the scene, capturing, from overhead, the hacking and groaning of these two characters, bonded by all matter of contract."
        • Jenkins has figured out how to funnel more feeling through a camera lens than anyone else: "Jenkins gives The Underground Railroad epic scale," says James Poniewozik. "He and his cinematographer, James Laxton, deliver one stunning composition after another...On top of this cascade of sights is the most arresting TV soundscape since at least Twin Peaks: The Return. The audio makes this world tactile: the rasp of cicadas haunting the woods, the echoes and howling of air in subterranean tunnels, the clanking of keys and scraping of metal that impart just how heavy shackles and manacles are. All this is more than technical wizardry; the aesthetics are inseparable from the story. Cora’s journey is one of contrasts: the breath of freedom, the terror of pursuit, the teasing possibility of safety, the reminders, everywhere, of a system of bloodthirsty cruelty. Jenkins gets it all. It’s as if he has figured out how to funnel more feeling through a camera lens than anyone else. The world he depicts is terrible, in every dictionary sense — both horrifying and awe-striking. Like Whitehead’s novel, the series is fabulistic yet grittily real. This is a beautiful work that pretties nothing up."
        • The Underground Railroad serves as a critique of past slavery portrayals in TV and movies: "There is a horrible and brilliant scene in the first episode of The Underground Railroad, Barry Jenkins’ breathtaking miniseries adaptation of the Pulitzer-winning novel by Colson Whitehead," says Judy Berman. "A runaway has been captured and returned to a cotton plantation in antebellum Georgia. Stripped to the waist and covered in bleeding lashes, the man (played by Eli Everett) hangs by his wrists from a tall wooden structure. Behind him stand the dozens of enslaved field workers who are being forced to witness his execution. Opposite them, fancily dressed white men and women feast at a table set out in front of the master’s grand house, waited on by enslaved domestics. A pair of Black musicians strike up a jaunty tune as the man is burned alive. This could be yet another graphic reenactment of Black suffering under slavery, crafted by well-meaning Hollywood types as a reminder—to an implied audience of similarly well-meaning white people with unfeasibly poor memories—of historical racism. Look deeper, though, and the harrowing scene reveals itself an incisive response to pop culture that fetishizes Black people’s pain without acknowledging the psychological impact of such depictions. The same murder that white revelers voluntarily consume as a twisted form of entertainment constitutes a trauma for Black witnesses who have no choice but to look. By sticking close to them, and filming through the victim’s own smoke-fogged eyes, Jenkins makes their perspective paramount. In a work that not only does justice to Whitehead’s masterpiece, but expands it in ways that only television could, he implies that there’s no separating America’s racist origin story from that story’s ongoing exploitation by the American entertainment industry."
        • Here are the biggest differences between Colson Whitehead's book and Jenkins' limited series
        • How composer Nicholas Britell tackled the music of The Underground Railroad: "When I first started talking to Barry about it, he went to shoot, and there was this one day where I got an audio message from Barry," says Britell. "He was in Savannah, and he doesn't normally send me audio text messages. I listened to it, and it just sounded like a construction site drilling or something. So I was like, 'What is this?' About two hours later, I get a text from Barry and he just says, 'Did you get what I sent?' Then I was like, 'OK, I know what he's talking about.' Immediately, I was like, 'He's talking about digging into the earth and going downward and going underground. And what does that mean?' I literally took that file and I started to experiment with it. I bent it and I slowed it down. What was interesting was there was this like rhythm to it that Barry was really into, this sort of drilling. And then there was actually like a tone, like notes almost, you know? That was the starting point of then saying to ourselves, 'Are there these like elemental forces to explore?' There's earth. Is there air? What's in the earth? It's these insects, these cicadas. Is there a sound of cicadas?"
        • William Jackson Harper was drawn to his Underground Railroad character because he felt cathartic: "Yeah, the thing that really attracted me to Royal just, as I started to work on it and the thing that I really started to like about it, was that in a lot of ways, he’s a freeborn man, and so there’s a way in which he’s ahead of his time," he says. "There’s a code that he has, that he lives by, that society at large tells him he’s not allowed to live by and he’s not allowed to have. And so for me, that was the starting point and the thing that I really latched onto, and the thing that was really fun to play. He’s a resistance guy. That felt really cathartic for me to dive into those aspects of his character."
        • South African newcomer Thuso Mbedu on playing the hardened but "very human" Cora: "Enslaved people weren’t allowed to feel," she says. "They grew hard, but they weren’t numb, and they had to figure out a way to not show their emotions as a means of survival. For you to emote or show anything beyond what the master could see could mean lashes or worse. They had to be very strategic in how they conducted themselves at all times.” Jenkins says it was Mbedu’s awareness and strategic mutability that made her the perfect Cora. “Thuso can come across as 16 and 66,” Jenkins says. “That’s what drew me to her and also to playing a character who has to live through these conditions. A lot of times, you have to check your own voice, but you can express yourself so many other ways. I was looking for someone who could really express themselves even when they’re not speaking,” who could just use “the slackness in their face or the tension in their face and convey so many things.”
        • Mbedu says Jenkins "saw something in me that even today I cannot see in myself": "I actually, at the very beginning, doubted if I was strong enough to serve the character the way she needs to be served," says Mbedu. Despite how “heavy” Mbedu found the character to be, the reward of playing her was greater than the risk of living in such dark and traumatic places for the duration of the shoot. “You can give a voice to those who didn’t or don’t have voices,” she says.
        • Barry Jenkins on how The Underground Railroad counters the debate over Black trauma: Jenkins tells TVLine that historically, Black people have been brutally tortured and killed, and acknowledging past atrocities helps put into context the police brutality against Black people that keeps happening now. “In my research, these things happened and much worse,” Jenkins says. “I remember in high school or college seeing images of lynchings, and you often see the aftermath. Because of that, it almost decentralizes the person who this happened to, and so it felt like going from the book to the screen, it was important to be very honest and just present it as these things happened.” He adds: “To me, it was an acknowledgement of the struggle and the things that our ancestors had to endure. You can’t shy away from it, and I try not to make anything based on responses and reactions or out of spite. But, for the four years that I was working on this show, I kept hearing the slogan, ‘Make America Great Again.'”
        • How Jenkins uses camera movements to capture the active inner life of enslaved people
        • Jenkins had a guidance counselor named Kim White on set to help his cast and crew process the heavy scenes: “The sign post for me was to be very forthright about the truth we were telling and also to have a very strong moral and ethical compass – that why Ms. White was on set with us," says Jenkins. "We were watching each other, she was watching us – because of where we’re filming the ancestors were as well. There’s a reason this isn’t a feature film. I didn’t want to force the audience into a captive experience, they can pause, play…you can do whatever. I think what’s really beautiful about putting images into the world is that when someone’s ready to find that image, it will be there. What we all did in creating this show, I think it honored our ancestors, we were respectful, respectful of the text and respectful of the audience.”
        • Jenkins is bracing for what he anticipates will be a heightened emotional response to the troubling material, particularly from Black viewers: “I know that people are going to encounter these images of my ancestors," he says. "This has been the work of the last 4½ years of my life. That responsibility, that weight is still with me. I don’t know how to process that. I used to think that creating the work exorcised those demons or that weight. With this one, it’s not the case. It’s just too much.” Jenkins also says he avoided using CGI for trains and tunnels. “It has to be real," he says. "I want the audience to see what I saw as a child. It’s so important that the actors can walk into a tunnel and they can get down on their knees and touch the rails. Can you imagine what my ancestors would have felt if they walked into one of these tunnels and they saw the track and the light approaching and a Black conductor shouting, ‘All aboard!’ It would have been mind-shattering. I wanted to create that.”
        • Jenkins used an all-Black focus group of Atlanta residents to determine how to portray the violence in the book: The participants were asked should Colson Whitehead's book be adapted for the screen at all. “To my surprise, only 10 percent of the people said that it shouldn’t be done,” says Jenkins. “The other 90 percent were like, ‘Tell it, but you have to show everything. It needs to be hard. It needs to be brutal.' I realized that my job was going to be pairing the violence with its psychological effects — not shying away from the visual depiction of these things but focusing on what it means to the characters. How are they beating it back? How are they making themselves whole?”
        • There was one time that Jenkins was so overwhelmed he had to walk off set: “As filmmakers, we've done this so much that you kind of know how to compartmentalize and prepare yourself,” he says. “However, there were a few scenes… Even though you're on location, there's no blood, there's no fire, the actor is in a harness, he's not actually suspended — yet because of the setting, and the commitment of the actors, it kind of overwhelms you. Even as prepared as I thought I was, there was a moment where I just had to walk off set. I didn’t tell anybody. I just walked off.”
        • Jenkins stresses that The Underground Railroad won't be back for a Season 2 because "this show damn near killed me": "This is definitely a show that's only one season, and I don't mean in subject matter or themes," he says. "But man, this show damn near killed me. Doing this many pages, covering this much ground in 116 days, man it was heavy. But I think this is a singular journey for Cora, and so I recommend binging it, especially because there's something very exhilarating about seeing where this woman starts and seeing where she ends up." 

        # TOPICS: The Underground Railroad, Amazon, Barry Jenkins, Colson Whitehead, James Laxton, Nicholas Britell, Thuso Mbedu, William Jackson Harper