Tuesday, August 29, 2017

"In producing Legion, ideas run free"/ Riverdale

Jan. 17, 2017 "In producing Legion, ideas run free": Today I found this article by Ian Bailey in the Globe and Mail:

Michael Wylie is in production designers’ heaven. As he leads reporters on a tour of sets he designed and had built for the new TV series Legion, he says he has been given a freer-than-usual hand to let his imagination run wild.

He has unleashed his imagination into a pretty big playground.

Sets for the series, based on the X-Men-related character, were built in a 160,000-square-foot former supermarket warehouse in this city southeast of Vancouver. It feels as large as a pair of downtown Vancouver city blocks. Throughout the tour, there’s the strident ringing of bells to indicate that cameras are rolling elsewhere in the vast space where shadows are broken here and there by lights for filming.

“A lot of times in TV shows, things have to be in continuity. From episode to episode, things have to be in continuity. There’s more flexibility to Legion,” says Wylie, who has designed sets for such series as Masters of Sex and the recent similarly Marvel comics-inspired Agent Carter.

The freedom is notable on Legion because the series is based on the realm of the X-Men – the righteous, heroic mutants featured in six films since Bryan Singer’s X-Men in 2000. There’s been a largely consistent look to the characters and settings since then.

But that all appears to have been enthusiastically chucked out the window with Legion, which will run eight episodes in its first season on on cable channel FX in Canada and the U.S. The series was created by Noah Hawley, the American novelist and screenwriter who has been acclaimed for his lively TV adaptation of Fargo, based on the 1996 Coen brothers’ movie about nefarious doings in Minnesota.

“I think the nature of this story and this story world is that it’s not as beholden to a certain aesthetic as some superhero stars are, in that sense,” says a chipper Dan Stevens, who played ill-fated Matthew Crawley in the British series Downton Abbey.

In Legion, Stevens is playing David Haller – a.k.a. Legion. In the comics, Legion was a mutant with dissociative personality disorder whose personas each had access to individual superpowers such as telepathy, telekinesis and pyrokinesis. He was also the son of X-Men leader Professor X – a.k.a. Charles Xavier.

But there was no talk of any such links during the media tour held in the fall as work was under way on the seventh of Legion’s eight episodes. “I don’t know who Professor X is,” actress Jean Smart, who co-stars in Legion as a mutant therapist, said politely during an interview.

And Stevens himself said Legion won’t exactly be like X-Men films. “It doesn’t feel like a superhero show. None of us yet have capes or horns or anything quite like that,” Stevens told reporters during a break from filming.

The series does not take place in any fixed time. Cars from the sixties exist with modern-day cars. Clothing is a mishmash of present-day and past fashions. As one cast member notes, it’s a kind of “sixties, mod-Britannia realm.” It’s the future as imagined from the perspective of the 1960s and 1970s. Another cast member says the proceedings have the visual tone Stanley Kubrick created for his feature films A Clockwork Orange and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

“We’re just trying to confound everybody,” says a bemused Wylie.

In a conference call with reporters, Hawley said he had read X-Men comics, but was not interested in a straightforward adaptation of that material. “There was no rulebook or anything I was handed when I came on.”

He also said he was steering clear of the angle around specific powers being linked to varied personalities created by Legion’s multiple personality disorder. Rather, he said, he was intrigued with the premise of someone who has to reassess their assumptions about themselves.

“What we get into with David is this idea that he has lived for 30 years and this identity he believes in is actually fake. Maybe he doesn’t have mental illness. Maybe he has these abilities. If that’s so, he has to go back and rewrite the story of himself. That, to me, was a fascinating existential journey that I wanted to take.”

Hawley said he approached the material in the same way he approached Fargo, where the mandate was to adapt the film about homicides linked to a nefarious kidnapping plot in Minnesota for TV without using its specific story.

“[It] was a very odd thing to think about, which is: How do you take the essence of a story and translate it into a completely new story,” he recalled. “But it liberated me in a lot of ways to create something where I wasn’t imitating. I wasn’t taking pieces that [filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen] had created and sort of mimicking them.”

With Legion, he says he, similarly, wasn’t interested in adapting specific issues of X-Men comics, though he was inspired by the material. “As I looked at it, the character led me to the story, which led me to the style and so, in many ways, if you’re going to watch the show looking for story lines that you recognize, that wasn’t my intention. My hope is to create something unexpected.”

He says Marvel has been supportive. “I am not sure they knew what to make of this as I came to them with this out-there idea for a show. It doesn’t really fit into all of the other shows they’re doing and I think that’s exciting for them in that they get to just give me the rope for me to run or hang myself or whatever I am going to do with it.”

Cast members and production staff promise drama, complicated relationships, action and mutants. Beyond that, details are limited, and some that were fairly obvious during the sound stage visit cannot be revealed without spoiling the show.

The X-Men films, which made Australian actor Hugh Jackman – a.k.a. Wolverine – a star are old news on the big screen. And there have been X-Men cartoons. But live-action TV is a new frontier for the franchise. Various X-Men-related TV series were on the drawing board, but Hawley won the race to get one to the sound stage.

Smart, nominated for an Emmy for her work on Fargo, says she knew nothing about comic-book superheroes, but signed on quickly when asked to join Legion. “Noah asked and I said yes. It didn’t matter what it was about. I kind of came into it blind,” said Smart, well known for her work in the sitcom Designing Women, and for playing a troubled U.S. first lady in 24.

Hawley has laid out a creative mandate for his team, says Wylie. It is this: “This story is being told from an unreliable narrator so we can do whatever we want, so that’s a really fun part of doing the show,” says the production designer.

“What that means to us, is ‘Everything goes.’”

So Wylie’s sets include the slickly furnished interior of a giant ice cube that’s the brain of one mutant – though Hawley apparently prefers to refer to “people with abilities.” Elsewhere, there’s David Haller’s apartment, which seems both modern and vintage – as confused as the character.

And there are the corridors and vast day room for the Clockworks Mental Hospital – a 23,000-square-foot set. This was the most complicated set to develop, he says. “Trying to make a hospital feel fun is a perfect challenge.”

Asked about shooting in the city, Hawley wryly said, “I heard all television shows are shot in Vancouver. That’s why we went up there. But, no – Vancouver offers an amazing array of looks and feels and, obviously, a great crew base and everything. We were thrilled to be up there.”

Hawley’s Fargo TV series has been shot in Calgary and other parts of Alberta.
Wylie was inspired by the brutalist architecture of the 1950s to mid-1970s, which often features bulk and exposed concrete and is typically seen in government and institutional buildings. “We shot all the exteriors at UBC where they have a lot of that sixties and seventies brutalist architecture and kind of embraced it,” explained Wylie.

But while there will be streaks of the traditional X-Men films in the DNA of Legion, Wylie notes that some props from the feature films have been brought to this sound stage from storage in Montreal – where the last two X films were shot – and the United States.
He did not say how they would be used, but, as with everything else, he has a free hand.

“You don’t have to follow any rules. If you come up with something, you can do something because you think it’s cool, or that it’s pretty or it manipulates somebody,” he said, then added with a smile, “We’re in the manipulation business here.”


My opinion: I have never seen the show before, but I would like to check out the pilot.

Jan. 11, 2017 "Riverdale is a subversive, dark take on Archie Comics universe": Today I found this article by John Doyle in the Globe and Mail:

It’s hovering around 9 a.m. on Sunday. I’m in a room with a couple of hundred people who write about television. A man on the stage is jawing on about the importance of keeping critically acclaimed but low-rated series on the air. It makes sense, he says, because the acclaim eventually draws in viewers who might watch others shows.

The man is Mark Pedowitz, president of the small, feisty CW network. The CW has such long-running series as Supernatural and in recent years delivered the strange but wonderful Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Jane the Virgin.

Yes, I’m at the midseason press tour for TV critics. It goes 14 days, every day, almost 24/7 and I’m here for a few days of it.

Pedowitz started by saying, “I’m not competing this morning, thank God, with any presidential-elect tweet. So things are good there.” This brings a laugh. Getting attention for any new TV production is difficult enough in an era of 450 scripted series airing across all platforms in the TV universe.

But there’s another side to the remark – one of the reasons for coming here is figuring out how U.S. TV will respond to the species of populism illustrated in Donald Trump’s victory. Is TV on board or acting as part of the resistance?

Television takes time to create and produce, but at any time it certainly acts as a reflection, sometimes twisted, of what the public is feeling.

Riverdale, a CW show that arrives on Jan. 26 (in Canada on Netflix), has been in development for a couple of years, first at Fox and now landing on the feisty CW. How it illustrates what’s happening in the United States is open to interpretation. Certainly, though, it is the first talked-about and advance-acclaimed new drama of 2017.

It falls into the category of “Is nothing sacred?” See, it is based on the characters in the Archie Comics, but bizarrely, shockingly so. Pedowitz called it “The O.C. meets Twin Peaks.” And that isn’t the half of it. It’s not a high-school show. It’s startlingly adult, subversive and near-Gothic. It’s sexy, funny and very creepy. It is, frankly, an amazingly ambitious, daring drama.

Anyone who thought that the wholesome quality of the narrative of Archie, Betty, Veronica and Jughead might simply make for a new 90210 for this decade was wrong. There’s a scene in the first episode in which Betty (Lili Reinhart) asks Archie (K.J. Apa) if he has feelings for her.

Archie hesitates and the viewer knows why. It’s because he is having, but can’t explain, a passionate fling with Miss Grundy (Sarah Habel). In Riverdale, Miss Grundy is not the white-haired schoolteacher of the comics. She’s a siren of a music teacher quite ready to indulge in an intense sexual affair with a student.

As for the classic love triangle of Archie, Betty and Veronica (Camila Mendes), it certainly exists, but this Veronica is more like the sultry brunette vixen from an imagined pornographic twist on the Archie Comics. Watch the first hour and you’re ready to believe that the dynamic between the trio is highly erotic and a threesome is on the cards.

Especially after Veronica and Betty indulge in a passionate kiss in their cheerleader uniforms. I swear I’m not making this up.

Once the shock wears off, the bones of Riverdale become clear. It’s a tangled murder-mystery set in a small town where evil lurks. What happens is that Cheryl Blossom (Madelaine Petsch, who is wonderful as the school’s main mean girl and dangerous she-devil) and twin brother Jason are boating out on the lake. Jason drowns. Accident?

Obviously not, in this world where everybody is hiding something. Most characters barely pretend to be wholesome. Me, I’m no expert on the Archie Comics universe, but I know enough to recognize that this is the Archie universe on acid.

There is a remarkably textured, blurry twist on the retro-vibe. The reference to Twin Peaks – which, interestingly also returns, rebooted, this year – is supported not just by the tone but by the casting of Madchen Amick, who was the abused waitress Shelly Johnson on Twin Peaks, as Betty’s mom. This mom is, mind you, closer to the crazed mother of Carrie, Margaret White, in Stephen King’s story, than to Betty’s mom in the comics.

And then there’s the nod to Beverly Hills 90210, with the casting of Luke Perry as Archie’s dad. This show is a very heady concoction. As one critic put it to the Riverdale cast and creators here, it’s like Happy Days was rebooted and Fonzie was actually a dangerous gang member.

Asked if he’s anticipating a backlash against this perverse twist on the old, familiar comics, CEO and publisher of Archie Comics, Jon Goldwater, was amused. “Backlash is good,” he said. “I don’t think there’s going to be anything but a great backlash.”

Admittedly, the Archie Comics line was relaunched a few years ago with more mature themes and there was the novelty of a comic featuring Archie fighting zombies in Riverdale.

But for most Americans, Archie Comics and its iconic characters are apple-pie wholesome.
The tale of how Riverdale came into being is a tangled one and offers an insight into the sheer weirdness of the TV business here.

When the series was in development, executive producer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa says there were mind-boggling suggestions from one unnamed executive. “He said, ‘I want you to think about time travel, Archie travelling through time,’ ” Aguirre-Sacasa told us. Then came another suggestion: “Portals are huge,” this exec said. “A portal to another dimension [for Archie]” And then came the wildest idea: “What if Louis C.K. is Archie?” Aguirre-Sacasa described the situation as, “Like something out of an episode of Entourage.”

The show’s creative team then settled on what they truly wanted, a surreal, noir-ish Archie Comics. “It became a loss-of-innocence show,” Aguirre-Sacasa explained.

This Riverdale revels in irony, perversity and ambiguity. It has the look of a drama set in the recent past – that period to which Donald Trump refers when he brays about making America great again – but it is emphatically set in the present. A present in which Veronica can be designated as looking like Betty Draper in a certain season of Mad Men. And a present in which the perceived serenity of the recent past is recast as a fraud, and then is remounted as a world utterly lacking in traditional morality.

Coming immediately after a topsy-turvy year, Riverdale feels like a gesture of disenchantment. In that itself, it’s popular culture with a Trump-ian twist – a complete loss of innocence, as its producer asserts.


My opinion: When I first heard about this show, I was kind of "eh" with it.  As in I wasn't really that excited about it.  It was about teens and I have really stopped watching shows about them.  I have leaned to written action- dramas like Blindspot, Quantico, and Arrow.

I don't know if I could take the show seriously because I read these comics books in elementary school.  However, there was a murder mystery.  I decided I'll record all the episodes and watch it in a week.

It was pretty good.   There is a good mystery with surprises and turns in it. 

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