Sure, there are plenty of TV moments that are petty, silly, bland and vacant. Also, kind of trivial.
But there are also shows that attack important subjecgts with passion and skill. One is "Underground," which debuts Wednesday (March 9) and debuts daily, focusing on the underground railroad that tried to get slaves to freedom. Here's the story I sent to papers:
By Mike Hughes
Back when Joe
Pokaski was a teen, this wasa just a little blip in schoolbooks.
“All I saw about
the 'underground railroad' was this little square in my
social-studies book,” he said.
co-creating the “Underground” series, he started to grasp the full
story. “The more we learned about it, the more exciting and
dangerous and brave and heroic” the notion seemed, he said.
Here were slave and
ex-slaves planning routes to freedom. “It's impossible,” said
series co-creator Misha Green. “It's 600 miles. (And) I can't point
to north .... You had to be the bravest person.”
And, at times, the
smartest. “They could use the stars,” said Jurnee Smollett-Bell,
one of the show's stars, “the way the moss hung on the tree, the
footprints in the mud or markings on trees.”
Slaves created songs
that subtly included directions. One man shipped himself in a box; a
woman, Smollett-Bell said, “disguised herself as a white man, put
her arm in a sling and went on a train.”
catches the roots of that, in a story set in 1853 Georgia. It was
filmed on a preserved plantation near Baton Rouge, La., where the
cast could absorb the full impact.
“The first thing
you think of is defeat,” said Aldis Hodge (“Leverage”), who
plays the escape leader. “You think of all the things that can kill
you -- the heat, the snakes, the alligators, the slave-catchers.”
The heat alone is
overwhelming, said Chris Meloni (“Law & Order: Special Victims
Unit”), who plays an enigmatic white man. He grew up in the heat of
Washington, D.C., but plantation life added more.
“A cotton plant
(is) the most unfriendly, unforgiving thing I've ever seen,” he
said, “It's worse than a cactus .... Then you see the bags ...
they're dragging along. It was so hot and so humid and (working) 12
hours a day in this heat? I mean, I get to go back to my trailer.”
Then there are the
constant reminders in the slave quarters, said Alano Miller (“Jane
the Virgin”). “It's heavy – the scratch marks, the blood
stains, the chains -- you see it all. It's there and it's real.”
He plays Cato, a
collaborator who works with the white owners. Smollett-Bell (“Friday
Night Lights”) plays one of the house slaves, with a close-up view
of the horrors.
“There is a scene
when I'm protecting my brother and taking his punishment,” she
said. “Afterward, it took me maybe seven or eight minutes to stop
crying. (The others) just came and huddled around me and just let me
Amirah Vann, who
pays the chief house slave, was one of the actresses viewing that
scene from the plantation porch. There, she saw the reaction of an
actress who plays an uncaring slaveowner.
plays Suzanne and she and I are dear froiends,” Vann said. “We
both struggled watching .... We had to take pause and just kind of
like hold each other.”
Amid this backdrop
of horror, people make daring plans. Should they run? How?
“When we were on
one of the plantations, we saw the treeline,” Hodge said. “Was it
seven miles away? So from the plantation to get to the forest, they
had to run seven miles to even find some shelter to hide.
“It's amazing, the
capacity of mental strength one can achieve, once you realize this is
either life or death. This is survival.”
10 p.m. Wednesday (March 9), WGN America, debuting March 9
-- Opener reruns at
11 p.m., midnight and 1 a.m.; then at 10 p.m. Thursday and Friday
(March 10-11), 11 p.m. Saturday (March 12) 10 p.m. Sunday (March 13),
11 p.m. Monday and Tuesday (March 14-15)