Get an update on the streaming home of some favorite series (especially Friends), George Clooney’s Catch-22 costume, Daniel Radcliffe’s mortality, and more.
Like most Americans, George Clooney read Catch-22 in high school. But he didn’t fully consider novel’s importance until he re-read it after writer Luke Davies sent him the scripts for the project that became Hulu’s miniseries adaptation.
“I loved the style of writing which was different than the kind of writing we had read. But I was pretty young, and so I just liked the character, and I thought it was fun,” the actor and executive producer told reporters at the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Los Angeles on Monday. “I reread it when we were sent the scripts to do, and I hadn’t read it in — you know, high school was 15 years ago — and I hadn’t read it in a long time. So it was really fun and exciting to go back and read and understand why this book lasted and stands the test of time.”
Joseph Heller’s 1961 novel is told in a non-chronological way, but the series streamlines the narrative to flow in a way that might be easier for audiences to consume.
“We really hope that we’ve retained the kaleidoscopic madness of the novel; but, no, the show really flows through [main character] Yossarian’s perspective,” Davies said. “The world is in chaos around him, but we honed in on Yossarian’s character. I mean, the novel does do that, too, but the novel jumps all over the place and spends a lot of time on other characters at different times. But there’s barely a single scene in the entire six hours in which Chris [Abbott, star] is not either in it or very close by implicitly.”
Added Clooney, “It’s a lot more linear than the book, for sure.”
The production flew two authentic B-25 bomber planes from the U.S. to where they filmed in Sardinia, which required lots of planning.
“They can go about five hours in the air and they don’t have heating so they’re wearing parkas and they’ve got oxygen masks,” Clooney, who plays Scheisskopf, explained. “And they flew — because you can’t fly over the whole ocean; they had to fly up past Greenland and bounce back all the way — seven stops to get there. So it’s pretty interesting, when they showed up, we were all standing out on the tarmac cheering.”
It might’ve been a huge effort, but it also helped the stars get into character.
“I didn’t actually fly in them because that would be extremely dangerous,” Abbott said. “But even just to ride it at about one mile an hour down a runway was scary enough. …Being in that nose cone [is] a vulnerable place. It gets really hot. It’s glass and it’s sunny. So it adds heat to the whole situation. It’s very small. It’s claustrophobic. …You’re reminded not how basic it is, but you feel like you’re driving an old Chevy in a weird way. It’s not as computerized as you would think it is. It’s very mechanical. Everything’s very tangible and beautiful also.”
The military uniforms also helped establish the characters.
“You feel an incredible sense of responsibility to generations, particularly that generation considered the Greatest Generation.
“I will say that as an actor in general — with the exception of the Batsuit — any time you put on a costume it does help you get into character considerably. I was sad there weren’t nipples,” Clooney quipped.
Netflix made a deal reportedly worth $100 million to ensure it would be able to stream Friends throughout 2019, but it’s likely that the sitcom will have a new home in 2020.
Kevin Reilly, the chief creative officer of the upcoming streaming service WarnerMedia (which will likely be the new streaming home of Warner Bros. expansive content library) told reporters on Monday that the studio’s biggest hits will likely move from their current homes to the new service, which is expected to launch in the last quarter of 2019.
“You can expect the crown jewels of Warner [including Friends] will ultimately end up on the new service,” Reilly said, also clarifying that they won’t appear on other services. “For the most part, sharing destination assets is not a good model. My belief is they should be exclusive to the service.”
That also means CW’s hits, including Riverdale and the Arrowverse shows, which currently hit Netflix a week after their season finales air on the network, would also eventually move to WarnerMedia’s service.
“We’re very interested in putting that on our platform,” Reilly said.
New TBS comedy Miracle Workers stars Steve Buscemi as a checked-out God and Daniel Radcliffe as a low-level angel tasked with forcing two humans to fall in love in order to prevent Earth’s destruction and save the human race. While it does put spirituality into the context of the modern world, it’s not a religious satire
“I wouldn’t describe our show as religious satire. It’s more of an existential show. It’s closer to something like Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy,” creator Simon Rich said. “It is more about what it means to be a human being on Earth. It was always my hope to try to portray a vision of heaven that’s consistent with our experience of being on this planet, and if you walk around on this planet it sometimes feels like things happen randomly and irrationally and unfairly and horribly all of the time, and so I thought, well, maybe one explanation for that would be that the guy upstairs is in the midst of a full-on midlife crisis, and the people who work for him are in a system that is hopelessly mismanaged at every single level. So that was kind of the genesis of it.
“In our show, God is the founder and CEO of Heaven, Inc. and he is very human,” Rich continued. “He has real flaws. He started Earth with a lot of good intentions…and, unfortunately, the project just got way too hard for him to manage.”
Rich described the series as “a cross between the Old Testament and Goonies,” but even with a fun, underdog bent, it is till serious subject matter. And that has inspired its stars to think a lot more about their own mortality.
“I think about it constantly anyway,” Radcliffe said. “I think I’m quite morbid so I often do. And I think that this is such a fun world that Simon’s created. I don’t particularly believe in an afterlife, but if there was one and it was like this, I’d be very happy.”
Added Buscemi, “If heaven is like [the one on the show], then I’m happy to go there because it seems like the technology in heaven has stopped, like, in the ’70s and that’s true with me. So I’d feel very comfortable there.”
The first season of Hulu’s comedy Shrill, starring Saturday Night Live’s Aidy Bryant and based on the novel of the same name by Lindy West, is a super-short six episodes. But that was the plan all along, considering Bryant’s day job.
“I have a full-time job at SNL, and so we had this little window of my summer, basically, to write and shoot the whole thing. And there was truly no more time before I had to go back to New York,” Bryant explained. “So that’s why it’s six, but we really like it because it sort of became this tight, little character study of these six episodes.”
The series deals with twentysomething Annie (Bryant) and her experiences as a fat woman living in Portland, Oregon. She’s not based on Bryant, nor is she based on West (though the show is based on some of West’s experiences), but she might be like one of Bryant’s SNL characters.
“I think she’s a lot like Sarah Huckabee Sanders,” Bryant quipped. “No … I didn’t see a lot of fat women on television when I was growing up, and I always craved that. And so when I read Lindy’s book, there were so many things in there that I identified with, particularly the idea that the whole world is telling you you’re wrong for existing in the way that you are, even if you don’t feel that way, and you feel like, ‘I have something to offer this world, and why do I have to do it in a size 2 package?’ And I think that part of the book resonated with me so deeply that when I heard Elizabeth [Banks, executive producer] optioned it, I was like, ‘What are they making? I’ll do anything to get in there.’
“I certainly think, in just the nature of a writers’ room, we all put ourselves into this character,” she continued. “And I think some of Annie’s apologetic nature is certainly maybe more my deal than Lindy’s, and trying to just be overly sweet to hide. Some of those things that we put into the show, I think, are maybe some of my characterization. She’s not exactly me, she’s not exactly Lindy. She’s someone else, and I think that’s healthy.”
Patricia Arquette’s turn as a homely prison guard in Showtime’s Escape at Dannemora required an extreme physical transformation, but instead of taking a job that required a lot less time in the makeup chair, she went immediately to Hulu’s new anthology series The Act. The Dannemora Golden Globe winner plays a mother who suffers from Munchausen syndrome by proxy and poisons her daughter, another extremely emotionally and physically demanding role. The season is based on Michelle Dean’s Buzzfeed News article “Dee Dee Wanted Her Daughter To Be Sick, Gypsy Wanted Her Mom To Be Murdered,” a case that was profiled in 2017’s HBO documentary Mommy Dead and Dearest.
“I had always been fascinated by this story of Munchausen by proxy, and Michelle had done this in-depth reporting and had a lot of information about this. I like this distorted love affair, but I am a little exhausted of playing crazy women,” Arquette said.
Like her Dannemora character, Arquette’s Dee Dee thinks that she’s doing the right thing. That’s just one commonality between the two characters.
“I think in general the choices that people and characters make they do because they have a reason to do it, and they create a logic that makes sense for them,” she said. “Whether people think they’re good people or bad people, or their choices are good choices or bad choices, they have a whole story supporting the reason they make the choice.”
Munchausen by proxy is something that has always fascinated Arquette, and it’s something that Dean, who co-created the series with Nick Antosca, learned a lot about in her research for her story.
“In the [research] you’ll find mentions of the idea that there was a spike in Munchausen once the Internet came around and people could look up reams of medical information at home in front of the television. And I think we’ve all had that experience where you’re having an ache or a pain, and you go on WebMD and you think, ‘Oh, I have cancer,’” she said. “And I think that’s been a curse on doctors. I do think that there is that spike that happened around the Internet. In terms of is there more ambient paranoia in the culture about illness and about environmental factors that might cause illness in children? Yes. I do think that’s one thing that makes it hard for medical professionals to sort a mom with Munchausen out from a mom who really is genuinely just concerned about a symptom that their child has and that they’ve observed.”
Stand-up comedian Ramy Youssef, star and creator of Hulu’s new comedy Ramy, never saw his life experience portrayed on screen. Most stories about first-generation Americans would feature children at odds with their parents’ cultures.
“The tension is always, ‘I don’t want to be like you,’ or, ‘I wish I was my white friends,’ and I never really related to that. I always really felt this connection to my culture, to my faith, and the tension in my life has always been how do I hold on to both things? Where does it feel like when you want to go to Mecca, and you also want to go to Burning Man? I’ve never seen that played out,” he said. “It’s always just like either/or, you’re watching people try to erase their history.”
Then there’s the fact that most portrayals of Muslims in Western media have not been the kindest — “because we’re so underrepresented when people see us, we’re constantly trying to apologize or over-prove and show that we’re good,” Youssef said — that has made it difficult for Muslim creators to portray a simple, real-life version of their own life experience.
“I just want to show that we’re human,” he said. “I think that what this show does for me is it actually leads with showing Muslims who have flaws, and [are] sitting in our problems. I think what really shows that someone’s good is that they’re a human being, and they’re really dealing with real things, and that’s what I think this show is doing for the first time for Muslims. It’s just showing us not being afraid to show us in all of our problems, and it’s not an apology, and it’s just this, these are things we’re dealing with, and what we’re dealing with might also be what you’re dealing with, too.”
While Youssef hopes his series can enlighten viewers about the Muslim-American experience, he is quick to note that his show does not speak for all Muslims.
“There are Muslims who will watch this and [say] that’s not my experience, and I think that’s great because I think we all have a different way that we come at it. But I do think that everyone will relate to the struggles that the characters go through, and I think that’s what we really work hard to create.”
This is the third series that executive producer Jerrod Carmichael (The Carmichael Show) has worked on starring a comedian and loosely based on his life (his own, his Carmichael costar Lil Rel Howery’s Rel, and now Ramy), and he said that working on his colleagues’ shows gives him the opportunity to help them refine their perspectives.
“As a stand-up comedian, a lot of times your perspective is centered on yourself, and you see things through your worldview, and every story is told just through you, and it really is just finding other ways into that perspective and finding other perspectives to attack that,” he explained, later adding, “It’s just a little bit beyond your perspective — because it’s so singular, and while a show that has other characters in it inherently is going to have something that goes against the way you think or the way that you’ve approached things. So I think just getting past that barrier that is the biggest thing.”
Youssef and Carmichael met in the Los Angeles stand-up comedy scene, but they didn’t initially bond over comedy. They bonded because they were both “people in L.A. and Hollywood who believed in God,” Youssef explained. That helped provide context for the show that eventually became Ramy. “The way we approach it and the way that it is a part of our lives is very much the way that we struggle with it in the show,” Youssef said.