TCA: Amazon Studios presents new series and controversial new partnerships

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Amazon Studios presented their slate of new series and season-two returns — plus a pair of controversial new projects — today at the Television Critics Association summer press tour.

Studio head Roy Price began the session announcing that the streaming service was moving its Emmy-nominated drama Bosch to a new night before delivering the punchline: “You can see it anytime! It’s your schedule that matters, not ours!”

Then drama chief Morgan Wandell launched panels for a pair of ambitious new dramas, Hand of God, which premieres Sept. 4, and the long-awaited The Man in the High Castle, which streams Nov. 4.

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Hand Of God from Burn Notice‘s Ben Watkins stars Ron Perlman (Sons of Anarchy) as vigilante Judge Pernell Harris who suffers a mental collapse after his daughter-in-law is raped and an ensuing tragedy leaves his son in a coma. Turning to a shady preacher for solace, Harris soon believes God wants him to exact revenge for the crime.

Watkins said he was driven by the idea that more than one thing can be true at a single time, adding that “one of the most gratifying parts of the response that we had after the pilot aired was watching people who took different sides. Having watched the same show, there were people who had extreme reactions one way or the other, some thinking that it was a show that was talking about a supernatural event and one saying it was a show about an insane person who is, under the cover of supernatural, doing something that is really bad.”

Perlman and his costar Dana Delany who plays his wife, both applauded Amazon for its focus on creative storytelling. “Coming from another phenomenal little dream factory called FX, I was insistent on finding a way to continue seeing if it was possible whether lightning to strike twice, said Perlman. “And at Amazon it’s just been kind of a love affair that I hope lasts beyond today.”

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The Man in the High Castle, from X-Files creator Frank Spotnitz, debuts Nov. 20 after bouncing from BBC to SyFy before landing in the Amazon stable some ten years into the process.

The eerie drama — based on the Philip K. Dick novel and starring Luke Kleintank, Alexa Davalos, Rupert Evans, Rufus Sewell, Joel de la Fuente, Cary Tagawa, and DJ Qualls — explores the idea of what 1960s America would look like if the Allies had lost World War II. No longer called the United States if America, the nation’s east coast is occupied by the Nazis while the Japanese control the West Coast.

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“Artists aren’t allowed to create, minorities and the chronically ill [are] persecuted, and a small band of resistance fighters are ruthlessly sought out and eliminated,” explained  Wandell of what he calls “the boldest new series of the year.” “But not everyone is suffering in this world. Jobs are plentiful. Crime is low. And the technological advancements are awe-inspiring. It’s a hugely provocative alternate reality of what could have been.”

Adds Sewell, who plays Nazi leader John Smith, “within his world, he is an all-American hero, and it’s that terrible irony that you are capable of living within a system that is incredibly cruel and unjust, and you can still convince yourself that you are right. What was interesting to me about Smith is that he ends up very, very conflicted, and it’s not straightforward — as far as I’m concerned, that was the opportunity. And the other interesting thing, and the question to ask is … what would the Nazis’ belief be of themselves and their past if there hadn’t been another victor? That’s what’s very interesting — what the current 1962 belief system is for the American Nazi and what it includes of the truth and how many lies they live with and how fragile all of that hold on that false truth is.”

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Next, comedy chief Joe Lewis brought out the cast and creators of Red Oaks, a Steven Soderbergh produced charmer set in the 80s that is sure to be a hit among the legion of John Hughes nostalgics.

Set in 1985 suburban New Jersey, Red Oaks follows David Meyers, an NYU student conflicted about his family, his future and life in general who spends his summer working as a tennis pro at Red Oaks Country Club.

Co-executive producer Gregory Jacobs said the creators’ template was “The Graduate meets Caddyshack to some degree” with some Hughsian nostalgia thrown in.

“One of the things that we really wanted to capture was the sincerity of the comedies of the ’80s,” added his co-EP Joe Gangemi. “That was the thing that sort of gave the humor some heart and I think is why a lot of those films have lasted.”

Jennifer Grey, who plays David’s mother Judy (Richard Kind plays dad Sam), drew laughs with the comment, ” I felt like it was a movie that as if Caddyshack and Dirty Dancing had a baby, and then it was raised by John Cassavetes. .. it also is laugh out loud funny and also very bittersweet. And it has an innocence of the pieces of that time, and I think of that time.”

After that, the cast and creators of Mozart in the Jungle and the groundbreaking (and Emmy-nominated) dramedy Transparent took to the stage to discuss their sophomore seasons.

Transparent creator Jill Holloway said the series has brought aboard writer Our Lady J and director Silas Howard because she believes that members of the transgender community should be involved in telling their own stories.

The Season 2 trailer revealed that Maura will rekindle her relationship with ex-wife Shelly (you love the person,not the gender, says Judith Light, who plays Shelly), a new love interest for Ali (Gaby Hoffman), marriage for Sarah (Amy Landecker) and a kid for Josh (Jay Duplass). Bradley Whitford will also return in flashbacks that explore Maura’s family’s immigration to the United States.

Asked how Maura would react to Caitlyn Jenner’s reception, Tambor said he might be a tad envious but overall, “Maura would love this. Maura loves the red carpet and loves a party. Definitely. I think that’s something that she would really like. And then we have met Caitlyn on a personal level, and we love Caitlyn.”

“I’ve had some wonderful conversations … meeting wonderful people either by on the street or people stopping me and talking about the show and wanting to talk about family, or even the transgender experience,” he said. “But most often they want to talk about their families, and that has enriched my personal life a lot. …that has made me very, very grateful.”

In the network’s tense executive session, Amazon Studio’s chief Roy Price dodged a volley of questions about the service’s freshly announced projects with famed director Woody Allen, despite longstanding allegations of sex abuse, and troubled former Top Gear hosts Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May.

“They’ve produced a great show for many years, and, you know, I think there’s a lot to focus on other than that, said Price of the Gear group who have apologized repeatedly for comments about minorities and women. ” So I think we feel very bullish that it’s going be a fun show that their fans around the world are going to love.

As for Allen, dogged by sex abuse allegations for years, Price also said he’s focusing on the larger picture. “Our focus is on the fact that he is a great filmmaker and storyteller, and so we look forward to the show in 2016,” he said.

Whether viewers feel the same remains to be seen.

Images: Amazon Studios

 

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About Lori Acken 1195 Articles
Lori just hasn't been the same since "thirtysomething" and "Northern Exposure" went off the air.