The notion of documentaries continues to evolve. In making true life a cinematic experience without losing the weight of what is being examined by real people talking to real people, the complication of human behavior becomes more and more defined, especially when the full truth is not know. In the first two chapters of the limited docu series “Murder In The Bayou”, the deaths so far of 7 women are revealed in various structures. They are all connected, had connections to the wrong side of town, many had drug problems. Their murders, which have been the basis of a New York Times article, have been poured over but no set arrests have been made. What the docu-series does is not lay blame but through interviews with all the accused and the victims paints the idea of a town with a secret to keep but oddly enough why it is doing so.
The story inevitably leads to a local criminal/strip club owner Frankie who provided drugs to some of the girls in exchange for tricks. His interview footage is interesting because more is obviously happening below the surface but he is not reacting. In many interviews with known criminals, there is either remorse or egotism. Here there is neither. The approach of moving with each of the victims’ families is wrenching but also deeply raw. There is pain, anger but also reflection and selfishness in a certain way.
The reflection on the local law enforcement also provides an interesting perception. In many parishes in Louisiana, the law enforcement on the area is the end all/be all as the documentary states. The essence of what happens in small towns in Cajun country is an interesting sociological experiment. Everyone knows everyone and yet everyone seems to be point fingers either way. Like a Deep South version of Twin Peaks, many of victims confessed to family members (as related to interviewers) that they had an idea what was coming. When the media starts looking closer, the response becomes more stilted because of the microscope but the blend of class consciousness but also such a mystery in a small town makes the beginning chords of this docu-series both intense, deeply sad but also intriguing.
By Tim Wassberg
Balancing from the CBS and CBS All Access TCA Day, Showtime, CW and, by extension, POP all possess a degree of creative landscape on the cultural plain. Each has its own texture with a sense of identity, yet never stepping too far out of line thereby alienating viewers. Among all networks, it is this texture of focus that undeniably balances the shows
Black Monday [Showtime] Returning to the network that made “House Of Lies”, Don Cheadle takes on the 80s with aplomb with an undeniable texture of Wall Street from the other side. Cheadle explains: “Moe would probably be Marty’s unhinged id. He doesn’t have a governor’s switch in the same way [as that character]. [With this show] it is trying to make a magic trick work on top of a roller coaster. It is the clothes and the hair and the excess of the 80s. [And] Moe has no ballast. There is no family that is tethering him. He is more a live wire in that way. It is constantly finding ‘him’ and seeing who ‘he’ is.” Jordan Cahan, one of the showrunners who also worked on the Christian Slater FOX show “Breaking In” explains: “This show has a secret code…words that we find abhorrent now. So we had to be very careful who we allowed to say those words. The tricky thing for us…just because it is cable…do we go to a certain place?” Cheadle continues reminiscing about what 1987 was like for him: “There were more yeses than there were nos. [In] 1987 I had just got out of school. I was living in North Hollywood. I was running around trying to get work. [A group of us] we would bum rush these auditions together. I never really started think I was good. It took many years until I believed that I could calm down [with that pursuit].” In translating that energy into the times that Moe lives in: “One of the things that we were cognizant about was having this sort of rag tag group of traders who are the Bad News Bears…the misfits.”
City On A Hill [Showtime] This throwback element to 1990s Boston involving a corrupt but determined FBI agent, Jackie, played with grizzle by Kevin Bacon, harks back to his previous work like “Mystic River” and “Sleepers”. Bacon discusses the connection: “I wasn’t really comparing the two. But with ‘City On A Hill’, it immediately had Jackie’s voice…that is the one I heard. It is just this world of 90s cops and robbers. [For me] there was nothing on television that quite felt like this.” In terms of wanting to commit to this show after doing “The Following” at Fox: “When you go into this situation with time involved…it is interesting here because the characters [are going] home. They are outside of [their] world. [In the pilot] we have a scene where the D.A. Ward (played by Aldis Hodge) and I are sitting in a window. Usually when the weather is that bad, you call it. [And when] your face gets that cold, you start to slur your words. Unfortunately the mustache (laughing) doesn’t keep it warm. That was the last scene of the pilot so I wasn’t sure if I needed the mustache [anymore].” (smiling) But in terms of what Bacon wants in terms of a challenge: “I want something new to explore. With ‘The Following”, it was all about that internalized type of character who has secrets. Jackie [by comparison] just doesn’t shut up. It is this kind of verbosity he has,”
Desus & Mero [Showtime] This new late night show optimizing the podcast and VICE phenom of Desus Nice & The Kid Mero just keys into its own sort of energy which can only be experienced live on the show, considering how quickly the panel progressed. Desus relays that he and Mero “actually met in high school in summer school…because they had air conditioning.” Mero explain the possibilities of how they approach what they do: “No one is really going on Twitter and reading policy [on politics]. We want to show people in their natural element. The vernacular we bring to it pushes with hip hop. This is authentic. It is not factory made.”
Jane The Virgin [CW] The trajectory of this show has allowed Gina Rodriguez to transform while still maintaining a grounded nature within the story. Speaking for the final season, just days before her new movie “Miss Bala” opens, the mood is somber as the show’s production is coming to an end. Jennie Snyder Urman, the show runner and writer, speaks to the show’s evolution: “We would work really hard each year on a different part of the love triangle. A writer once told me that a telenovela is a pornography of emotion. We go through all the feels in the last season unfortunately. [But] we have shown that we will go to unexpected places.” Rodriguez balances this thought saying: “I have been blessed enough to do work in the space that Jennie has created. [And] I have been able to see where I can use my creativity. There is so much I have learned on ‘Jane’.” Urban does tease the next iteration of Jane with a new play on the story: “The spin off is a conceit since it is novels that Jane will write in the future.”
In The Dark Using the essence of the blind to propel a story is an exercise in identity, especially when the teen in question is rebellious. Like certain CW shows before, this drama/comedy approaches the subject with humor but it needed to be based in fact. Lori Bernson, who consulted on “In The Dark” actually walked onto the stage with her guide dog to practically show the perceptions that the dogs have which is key to the story. Bernson lost her sight at a young age but defers on the difference of being born blind: “The difference is losing your mannerisms after you lose vision. It is so conditioned in you to do those things. Often times you don’t have as much contact. People say that I am looking right at them. The greatest thing though is when somebody moves and they don’t tell me. The difference of not seeing ever is that you don’t know anything different.” Perry Mattfield, who stars as the blind Murphy, explains that “Murphy’s blindness is not the only aspect I deferred from Murphy. Obviously I did realize how much responsibility there was for this role. I went to Lori’s house and I was watching her to do her thing. When she is watching TV, she will still look down to the remote first.”
Roswell, New Mexico [CW] This reboot examines the textures of the lost nights and alien interactions for a whole new generation. The key is mixing up the performances but also the story archs in a meaningful way. Jeanine Mason, who won Season 5 of “So You Think You Can Dance” takes on the role of Liz Ortecho. She explains her approach: “I am a performer. We all are. I grew up admiring the showman. [But] existing as a Latin X lead on a network television show is a rarity. That is what I love about being in 2018…tbe able to play woman who is ignited….who is a fighter” Julie Prec, who serves as one of the show runners talks about filming the show in the desert near Santa Fe: “The elements in general are so unpredictable. We sometimes can’t get the lights higher than 10 feet because of the wind.”
Flack [Pop] This new series from the cable label that brought viewers “Schitt’s Creek” examines the publicity side of the business. Anna Paquin plays Robyn who runs a PR crisis management firm who has trouble maintaining sanity in her personal life. Paquin explains: “Was it complicated? The only major rewrites happen around location.” But in a more production based tone as she developed this with her husband Stephen Moyer as well: “Speaking for myself, we are not really looking for a specific genre or medium but [instead what] connects and is smart. The big lesson is that you really need to believe in what you are doing because you will be doing it for a really long time.” Moyer jumps in on finding the right material: “[When it was] first brought it to us, it was set in England. You read so much stuff and the [good ones] are rare.” In terms of her acting which also includes Sophie Okonedo, Paquin explains her work: “I use the word ‘coven’ a lot. I mean that in the best possible way. [For me] there was a sisterhood [on set] that was inclusive and protective.”
By Tim Wassberg
Andrew Rannells has run the gamut of interesting roles. From his breakout with Josh Gad on Broadway with the irreverent “Book Of Mormon” through his multi-faceted journey on “Girls” for HBO to the recent groundbreaking TV show: “The New Normal”, the challenge from him is to keep moving the dial. After conducting a panel with his fellow actors at the Showtime TCA Press Day for the new series: “Black Monday”, he spoke exclusively with The Inside Reel about character building, the journey and the importance of location.
When you look back at that period, is it the fashion that strikes you, the attitude, the drive?
Andrew Rannells: It’s a bit of everything, I mean the the humanity of the character that I’m playing is pretty easy to tap into. Like having like [me] move to New York at a young age…feeling like I was very much from the outside of where I wanted to be. But yes the second you throw on suspenders, that does a lot of work for you. I remember saying “I just want to look like Michael J. Fox”.
Could you talk about sort of the mentality, the mindset that this character has to be in.
AR: It reminded me a lot of what I got to do in “Book Of Mormon”…the character I played was a little boy…this young missionary who had a lot of knowledge but not practical experience. And that’s exactly who Blair is. He has this algorithm, he’s done all this homework and he’s never put it in practice. So he very idealistically thinks that he can come and take NYC by storm. And then another character really teaches him very quickly that “That’s not the way this works!”
But within the character it is also about playing the white noise…those beats between the lines…
AR: The tone’s a funny balance of finding exactly what it is we are doing. My scenes with Casey Wilson were very different to my scenes with Don and very different from my scenes with Gina. It was funny to have such a wide playing field, particularly later in the season because Regina [Hall] and I as characters become closer, in a very specific way. It was fun to have all of that exist at the same show.
“Black Monday” is set in New York. But it was filmed in LA. But then you shot “Girls” actually in NY. Can you talk about the sort of identity of New York in this from your perspective?
AR: Well, “Girls” was very much — we got to use the city. I hate when people say this, but it’s true. But you use the city as a character. And it was so important to the look and the feel of that show. We shot all over the city. And it really was a huge part of it. This is sort of the backdrop of our story. There’s an energy that I think just naturally kind of comes in from the idea that we are in New York. There’s a pace to it. It’s incredible to me what they did visually [in “Black Monday”] because I thought that it would film in New York. I was like — exciting to live at home (laughing). So I was a little disappointed but – what was it going to look like? Is it going to look right? Are we going to use back lots? Like, how are we going to be doing this? But then, when they came up with this stock footage thing, it’s really pretty crazy because I know where those moments are. And you can’t always tell. It’s pretty seamless, particularly in the pilot when they show my apartment. It’s like they blended it in so perfectly
Can you talk about building the character because Blair, like a reverse Clark-Kent in the sort of awkwardness narrative… it sounds like you had input on these aspects…
AR: I mean, the thing that I wanted — I wanted them to start off with “The Secret Of My Success”, and then sort of end up [somewhere else]. And that’s such an outside-in process. But I knew speaking with hair and makeup that there were just going to be subtle things that started to happen.
Like the colors in the wardrobe…
AR: The colors. Like, the glasses change. The hairstyle changes. My hair – because we shot over several months – it like, gets longer. And it gets like — it’s just sort of like finding who Blair thinks he is in that world and what he should look like, and what he was trying to emulate. And it’s those guys…like Michael Douglas in “Wall Street”….Blair wouldn’t want to look like that. So it was fun to get to play with that stuff. Generally, for me, wardrobe is very informative. It’s a huge part of building the character. So the fact that we got to like pace it out — I mean, it’s so silly. But like, what’s his hair doing? (laughing) Like, that weirdly became a big part of it to sort of track what his mental state is and where he is.
This era was a world of perception, a world of masks…how many layers do you have to put within Blair? Could you talk about – not so much the details — but that sort of structure.
AR: It’s so much about labels, and the Rolex, and the cars, and the what kind of suit [you’re wearing]. All of that was a thing. And I think it was just to show it’s all very different. I guess we didn’t really do that with the actresses as much, but certainly on Wall Street at that time, that was a way to show you’re successful, right? So I think as Blair proceeds to becoming more successful, he has to do those things. He has to get better clothes. He has to get a better hairstyle. So it was in a lot of ways that I think Blair goes through sort of maybe the most changes personally and physically through the course of the season. So it was fun to get to do that.
By Tim Wassberg
With his powerful performance in Netflix’s “Mudbound”, his turn as Eazy E in “Straight Outta Compton” and now with his starring role in Showtime’s “The Chi”, Jason Mitchell is on a role. He took time after the panel for “The Chi” at the TCA Showtime Press Day to talk to Inside Reel about his ambition and process.
You been doing a diversity of projects from “Compton” to “Mudbound” to “The Chi”. Can you talk about keeping it fresh?
Jason Mitchell: Absolutely. I didn’t feel strange about not getting a certain sort of recognition for “Straight Outta Compton”. I didn’t feel like I deserved more than what I’ve got. But I did feel the amount of effort that I put into that character was sort of overlooked. People [were] like, “Oh, you’re from California, right?” No, actually, I’ve never been to California before I shot that movie. “Oh, you’re Easy’s kid, right?” No. They were so convinced that they just totally overlooked it. So in my mind, I was afraid that I was going to be pigeonholed. I was afraid I was going to be typecast in all these different things. So I was like, “You know what? Every role that I get, I’m going to try to change and morph as much as I can to just really show people.
Having just worked on a recent project with Kathryn Bigelow as well as Dee Rees [on “Mudbound”] and Lena [Waithe] here on “The Chi”, can you talk about them as directors and creators?
JM: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think women are the most sure creatures, you know what I mean. They have very little words, and they won’t go back and forth with you unless they feel that they can win it. And a lot of times, they won’t even go back and forth with you because they already won. Which brings me to say that they just have finesse. Like Dee Rees, I tell people all the time, [one of the] most sure black woman I’ve ever met in my life. We had 29 days, and we still finished early on some of those days. That was incredible to me. Kathryn Bigelow, I call her the big cat because she is super chill. And she’s very locked in. She knows exactly what she wants, and it’s the same thing with Lena. She told me, “Just support me. This is my friend’s TV show. I’m not the showrunner. I won’t be on set every day. But trust me, trust me, and let me know that I can trust you. And we can make a great show.” And I think that’s what’s happening.
With “Mudbound”, Dee had a sure hand but you had the role. I could not see you. And then here, same thing, it’s just because you disappear. Could you talk about that because that’s as much of a physical transformation as it is emotional.
JM: When people come to me with a really heavy material, I always respect the fact that that I was even thought of. For Dee to tell me, “You were the top of my wish list,” I was like…[and then Lena] “If we get Jason Mitchell, we can do the show.” When Showtime approached me, they were really, really like, “If Jason Mitchell’s down, we’re down.” Like, “What is what? What is my life? What are you saying?” You know what I mean? I feel an obligation to come in and I don’t think swing for the fences. Think swing for the parking lot. I’m trying to break a window in the parking lot, And I have to feel like that every time because these people are putting their star in my hands. It’s important for me to try to go out there and kill it every day.
But you can get so quiet, then you get so big. You can modulate the energy really well.
JM: I’m such a people watcher and I pride myself in being able to watch somebody so close, to be able to feel what they’re thinking before they think, you know what I mean? I grew up in service in New Orleans. And working at The Ritz-Carlton, they always just told us, “Anticipate the service. Anticipate the service.” And I feel now, that’s working for me in my career, because I can anticipate how somebody may feel in this situation.
By Tim Wassberg