The essence of politics and law can be a tricky slope. The intention of what characters do and don’t do are usually reflective of how they live their lives and what they want to accomplish. In “Pearson”, which focuses on the travails of one Jessica Pearson who formerly ran a law firm in New York in “Suits” is an interesting transmutation.
At a TCA panel attended when “Pearson” was announced, Gina Torres discussed how she thought she was done with this world but that this series gave her an interesting balancing act. As the focal point, it is about Pearson’s deconstruction without losing the elements that make her character who she is. Pearson was always a fixer but here she is a fish out of water. She has all her experience but has to learn the new path of fixing problems in a city that continues in its paradoxical ways.
Chicago is a ripe city for this series to be set, both reflective of its history and because of its history. It doesn’t make the mechanizations too dense within the plot but also understands that nobody is clean yet all are dipped in shades of gray. There is something gnawing at every single one of the characters…no matter how virtuous or altruistic they think they are. Bethany Jo Lenz as City Attorney Keri Allen brings a balance of power and vulnerability which is an interesting diametric to Pearson. Isabel Arraiza as Yoli Castillo reflects in a different manne with a subtext and subtle innerworkings that remind one of Meghan Markle in “Suits” albeit from a different perspective.
The notion of family also has a very specific tenure within the story on many fronts, including the mayor and his brother, two halves of the same whole but with different understanding of sacrifice and loyalty. Morgan Spector as Mayor Bobby Golec walks the line between glib and vilified, inspiring and decadent…sometimes the mark of a true politician. There is also a balance of optimism introspected by Eli Goree as Derrick the press secretary and even Chantel Riley’s Angela who is cousin and parallel to Jessica but with the exact opposite problems in many ways as the lead character.
The season (without spoilers) progresses in a sense of stopping a dam but realizing the cracks being formed or simply becoming more pronounced. The series knows the puzzle pieces it is constructing but also the plot points it needs to hit. It isn’t a by-the-books procedural in any way since the characters move awkwardly with real intention which can only be accomplished through subtlety in writing.
Pearson as a character is an enigma but one icy enough that an audience can root for her but now also fallible enough to know what can and can’t be solved hence making her more accessible to the audience. Chicago, like all of America, is about fighting what is right but knowing that paths are meant to be circular. The notion of identity examined in “Pearson”, both about who we are and who we want to be is a conscious awareness that its lead character continues to traverse.
By Tim Wassberg
The texture of the NBC progression within this year’s TCAs swells with the essence of the female focus, both in the texture of comedy and drama but also in the evolution of character.
Abbys [NBC] Led by Natalie Morales, this multi-cam comedy takes places in a watering hole created in said lead characters backyard with the inevitable cast of characters. Morales comments that she grew up watching NBC on Thursday nights.While there will inevitably be comparisons to another bar set series from the network, Morales says this structure is almost like “Cheers Theater In The Park” which is enhances by the fact that most of the cast all has sketch and theater experience. Michael Shur, responsible for creating “Parks & Recreation” and also the recent hit “The Good Place” says the biggest selling point of this show (or any for that matter) is “if it might be interesting”. As with most shows in terms of development, he says they “sort of become self fulfilling prophecies”. The draw for him is that it is set in someone’s backyard. He uses a point of reference that a comedic point could be “the regularity of a woman next door just because it is next door and has 7 glasses of wine before she goes to sleep” and also that “the characters sit in the same seats every day”.
Project Runway [Bravo] A stalwart of the cable landscape lineup, this continuation brings the structure back to Bravo and in doing so transforms it for a new generation. The mix of designer Cristian Miliano and host/model Karlie Koss really gives the show a renewed spirit. Miliano is an actual active designer and a winner of the Runway competition so combining this with the fashion show active Koss gives the show an immediacy like never before. Koss admits that she grew up watching this show and for her “it is surreal to be part of this next chapter”. She continues that a lot has changed in the world since the original show specifically in “as far as how designers have to think about businesses today”. For her, it is important that “we all have voices and can give feedback. Fashion is for anyone”. She says, “I first watched [the show] when I was 11 years old in St. Louis Missouri”. For her, “it is a platform and a way to show stories and a creative process, that talent comes from anywhere and everywhere”. For her, “the journey and experiences I have had…each one of us [here] is in the middle of our own multi-hyphenate careers. You have to be social media savvy. You have to know what you want to say. It is not a matter of just breaking out but also sustaining your career.” Cristian gives his perspective of the fashion business saying “I treat every designer as It reat my design team every day. I really feel I get too passionate.” That said, he continues, “It is amazing to see on this show, [people] create something from nothing. I think that is very beautiful to watch.”
Listing Impossible [CNBC] This CNBC show showcasing a texture of selling multi-million dollar homes and the angles needed to close may seem a little antithetical in the current market but it also displays the texture of ambition and goals. Lead agent and star of the show, Aaron Kirman tries to put it into perspective says “The struggles that the wealthy are up against are in many way not dissimilar [from everyone else]. His intern turned agent Neyshia Go, who is also highlighted on the show, keys into this essence of ambition: “The day she got her license her entrepreneurial spirit kicks in. Go explains it in her own way: “You need understand the buyer and seller but you need to know how to deal with the idea of of who the buyer and the seller is. ‘There is a shoe for every dirty foot’ which is what Aaron says.” Morgan Trent, also an agent on the show, has had a different trajectory having played professional football for a short time for the Cincinnati Bengals. He explains his career choice; “I played football. I played in the NFL. But I didn’t love football. I loved real estate.” He describes through the psychology needed in real estate versus say other businesses: “When we walk away, we know that they [the sellers] are on a losing ship. Usually those sellers wait until a year later [and then they come back]”.
Pearson [USA] This spinoff of “Suits” is a paradox of sorts. Gina Torres, a stalwart of the series, left the law based series to pursue other interests inevitably because the plot flow had begun a different way. Adding to that a little later, good friend and co-star Meghan Markle left to marry Prince Harry of England. But it was changing the structure and the focus in moving Pearson’s story to Chicago and setting it in the political arena. Torres explains: “My mind went to Jessica Pearson, this character whom I thought was in the rear view mirror, she wasn’t about walking the line but moving it. You can call [this development] a happy accident. You can call it a natural evolution. [But] now Jessica is in service to her own life and how that works.” Daniel Arkin, one of the exec producers of “Suits” and now the showrunner of “Pearson”. He speaks on the texture of the show: “When we set out [to do this show], we want to do it different than how we did ‘Suits’. Jessica Pearson is the link but we wanted this show conceptually to be more gritty and raw. Jessica was a chess player in ‘Suits’ but once you become the lead character, the story is not going to go very far if [that character] knows everything. People reject her for a change. Torres concludes the perception: “These are completely different people from ‘Suits’. Jessica doesn’t know who she can trust”.
La Reina Del Sur [Telemundo] This hybrid of a telenovela has become a more straight high production series from Telemundo. While the US has made their version with “Queen Of The South” on USA, Kate Del Castillo was the original bad-ass. She explains: “We never thought it would be the success it would have been. It was shown as a telenovela. But I was exhausted. We had different conditions budget wise and we did our best.”. But in terms of returning to that mindset, she continues: “You forget the character. You forget what is going on. It has been fresh because they have been repeating the series.” Living in Los Angeles, she continually watches for shifts in the entertainment industry: “Things are changing slowly but they are. Every time I read a script there is a better role for Latinos and women Latinos. I have been living in Los Angeles in 18 years. When I first came here I already had a job in ‘American Family’ for PBS.” As to the possibilities in this new incarnation, she teases: “You can expect a lot of action. I am 8 years older and it hurts. But she is more mature. She is a mother. She is mature in that way but she goes for it.”
Busy Tonight [E!] Closing out the day before rushing back to do a new show that evening with Josh Groban, Busy Phillips is full of energy and confidance. She starts off: “I have been an entertainer for 20 years but making my life very open on social media opened me up to a whole new type of audience. It felt like a natural progression for me.” In terms of building the show: “What we wanted it to be was a little treat for our viewers at the end of the night. I was sick of watching ‘Friends re-runs’ on the end of the night.” As far as her guests: “People surprise you. David Alan Grier was incredible. Patti LaBelle is one of my favorites. Julia Roberts was always a priority.” Tina Fey, producer extraordinaire, explained her openness to the idea of the show on E: “I really liked Busy. She floated this idea. I think what [this show] is is unique and smart. (she looks at Busy) You are not trying to be Jimmy [Fallon] or Ellen.”
By Tim Wassberg
Moving into the cable structure of NBC/Universal with dramatic outlays from SyFy to USA to E! The approach is multi-faceted appealing to demographics and textures of stories that continue to diversify.
Krypton (SyFy) This anticipated series follows the angle of Seg-El, Superman’s grandfather and the challenges he must face on their home planet. Creator David Goyer explains the approach: “We do roughly have a 7-8 year plan. Everyone know Krypton blows up. But this is an untold story. As you saw from the promo there is time travel involved. It is advantageous being its own thing with its own story. Not that much is know about Kryptonian society. We play and subvert into the expectations of what Superman’s grandfather would be like.” Cameron Cuffe, who plays Seg-El talks about the challenges of the role and his approach: “I am a fan. I have always loved Superman. He has always been there. I know what that symbol means and that keeps you grounded. These roles and these symbols mean something very real. The legacy seems very far away from him when the show begins.” Goyer continues on working in story elements that are unknown but also how it relates to today: “I can say that even when [Christopher] Nolan and I were working on “Batman Begins”, [we figured out] when there is a blind spot [it can be good]. Science fiction can act as an allegory for today. We’ve got 10 hours over the stories of the first season. It may not be hard to write Superman but it is hard to cast. It is an ineffable quality. Even if it is his grandfather, it is hard to cast Superman.” In terms of finding accessibility for the audience, the creators found the point of view through another DC mainstay character: Adam Strange. Geoff Johns, CCO and President of DC Entertainment, explains that engagement: “We wanted Adam Strange to be from Michigan, He doesn’t honor the same things Superman does. One of the great things about Adam Strange is that when he travels by Zeta Beam to the other planets he becomes this hero…an unlikely hero to shoulder a burden.” But as to the essence of Seg-El as a character: “He will at least try to make the right decision. He is meant to be better than us. But he is not perfect.”
Unsolved: The Murders Of Tupac & Notorious B.I.G. (USA) Doing dramatic interpretations of current events, especially ones as intrinsic as the murder of these two rap stars and the investigations thereof creates an interesting dichotomy. Exec producer Anthony Heminway, who directed “Red Tails” on the Tuskagee Airmen for Lucasfilm as well as episodes of American Crime Story: The People Vs. O.J. Simpson”, speaks on the approach to the story: “This is a way to really lay into the friendship [of Biggie and Tupac]. Even seeing the detectives point of view intersecting at the same point with different goals. The show really gives us this human study of what we are seeing today in our culture. It was about who [these men] could they have been today.” Marcc Rose, who plays Tupac Shakur, speaks of keying into his character: “It is just the layers of who he was. I am used to seeing the artist but behind the scenes [it is about] why he said certain things. He was filled with passion. His brother was on set [for this] and very helpful. To just be around him and also to meet Tupac’s mom before she passed [was invaluable].” Wavyy Jonez, who plays Christopher Wallace aka Notorious B.I.G., talks about his perception and engagement with the character: “This killing of Biggy and Tupac was a tragedy. But going back [if is about] what could have disconnected these two. But to go back and research and look at the friendship. Everything Biggy talks about is so yum. Coming from a single parent home and become so massive and then to lose your life.” Hemingway continues, discussing the impact of the music but the essential family stories at the core: “The music was the fun part of it. It was the soundtrack of my childhood. [But it was also] about having the opportunity of today and now. We really touch on a family story: a mother dealing with loss and watching her explore the voice and pain as well as triumph and courage.”
Citizen Rose With recent take down of Harvey Weinstein and his fall from grace no one has been more crucial and outspoken than Rose McGowan having spearheaded the movement. With her new reality show on E!, the camera will explore her everyday life which continues to develop every day. Sitting in front of the press at TCA, McGowan speaks: “I scare because I care. My father said I was born with my fist up. It is not important to be seen as anything. I don’t respect those who don’t respect. My platform is really raising consciousness by 10%. The narrative that has been run by me for 20 years has been erroneous.I think it is a time of reckoning and a reset button.” As to her decision to do a show with E!: “I really like the people at E.I feel comfortable working there because I know what I’m doing.” McGowan also speaks to the current state of women in the directors chair in the entertainment industry: “You have 96% directors in the DGA [that are male]. Fix that. 3 years ago when I was preparing for this show. I realized that I could not speak on camera without a script. I have trained the past 3 years to exist just as me. It is sometimes not pretty. It is raw and it is my truth. This is my form of volunteer work. [But] the terms are different this time. I was waiting so long for this guys. I don’t have a lot of trust. I am down with calling this “reality”…this is mine. It is not an accident that I am sitting here. I fought for this.” Speaking to her continuing activism. McGowan continues: “It is about freeing your mind. I wanted to be like Gertrude Stein and have a discussion with the world. “Rose Army” I trademarked 3 years ago in all forms. What it can do is eventually exert force. I know a lot of things so people think I make pronouncements.” She also speaks of dispelling myths but also the continued struggle: “I never signed an NDA. That is a mistake the press made. We have [also] found out a lot of them can be broken. [That said] I am having to sell my house to pay off legal bills to fight the monster.”
WWE RAW 25th Anniversary Wrestling is and continues to be a major draw despite any other sports criticism of it. The mix of persona and physicality is undeniable. Stephanie McMahon, Chief Brand Office of World Wrestling Entertainment, explains the power that this kind of sport provides: “We are more socially engaging than “Game Of Thrones.” This being the 25th Anniversary edition, the essence is on the moments of history that stand out. The Miz, one of the biggest draws of RAW, speaks on his memory: “Everytime I come out into the arena with 20,000 people saying “You Suck”. There is no better feeling in knowing with an audience that you have them.” McMahon believes in the progressive nature of the sport finally coming full circle: “In terms of real, one of my most memorable raw moments was a couple weeks ago, when I came out and surprise all the women in the ring when I was able to announce the All Women Royal Rumble match.” Retired WWE wrestler Sean Michael concludes the thought and infers the texture of his experience: “The most important thing here is the relationships. I am the only guy to be able to look at this in the rear view mirror. Taking a lot of it in and even though it is the silly WWE wrestling business, we are thankful to have it.”
By Tim Wassberg