TCA Tour Sessions Feature Pandemic, Inequality Themes

HBO, AMC, Amazon Prime Video series tackle topics of the moment

The country’s ongoing struggle with the pandemic along with continued protests over racial inequality served as recurring themes across several scripted programs presented during CTAM’s first-ever virtual Television Critics Association summer tour.

John Cusack in Amazon Prime Video’s ‘Utopia’

The Aug. 3-11 event, featuring virtual presentations from more than a dozen cable networks and streaming services, offered inside looks at several drama and sci-fi series that draw parallels between fantasy and the real events Americans are experiencing on a day-to-day basis, producers and cast members said.

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HBO’s Lovecraft Country, from executive producers Jordan Peele, Misha Green and J.J. Abrams, follows the exploits of three African-Americans in the Jim Crow U.S. of the 1950s in search of a missing relative. Along the way, they encounter supernatural monsters and other fantastical creatures (see Review, this page). The challenges with mythical terrors faced by the main characters often mirror the fight African-Americans continue to wage today with regards to equality and justice, Green said.

“I think that monsters are a metaphor for the racism that’s kind of always been through America and even globally,” she said. “For me, genre works best when it is the metaphor on top of the real-life emotions that you explore in real-life problems.”

AMC’s Soulmates, which offers a futuristic look at love in a world in which a test unequivocally tells you who your soulmate is, and Amazon Prime Video’s Utopia, a conspiratorial thriller about a group of comic-book fans trying to stop the end of the world, deal with anxieties that arise from an uncertain and uncharted future, much like viewers are dealing with during the COVID-19 era.

“I think that this will be an amazing respite from what the world is dealing with right now in that it delves into relationships,” said Betsy Brandt, co-star of Soulmates, which bows Oct. 5. “It’s a crazy time, and I think this show is perfect for what we’re all dealing with right now.”

Issa Rae in “Coastal Elites’

Utopia star John Cusack said the show’s “theme itself included viruses, it included famine, it included perhaps a nuclear accident. It was kind of disturbing and surreal to see it come so close to life … with the pandemic.” The show will be available starting Sept. 7.

HBO tackles the pandemic head-on Sept. 12 with series Coastal Elites, which tells contemporary stories of politics, culture and COVID-19 through the eyes of several socially distant characters. Stars Bette Midler, Issa Rae, Kaitlyn Dever, Dan Levy and Sarah Paulson filmed the series under quarantine in separate locations to better reflect the conditions of today, Coastal Elites executive producer and writer Paul Rudnick said.

“One of the great advantages [filming] so in the moment and so quickly with people who were so adaptable was that we could weave both the pandemic and the Black Lives Matters protests into the material,” Rudnick said. “It was a very natural fit for all these characters, because they’re all people going through everything right now.”