Amazon presented several Prime Video and Freevee series during the Television Critics Association on Friday, bookending the presentations with their heaviest hitters (pun intended): the long-awaited The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power and the series adaptation of film A League of Their Own. The streaming giant also offered news about Tegan and Sara’s new show High School, as well as Sprung and Jungle.
The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is the first J.R.R. Tolkien adaptation not explicitly based on one of his novels like The Lord of the Rings or Hobbit trilogies. Set in the Second Age of Middle-earth, thousands of years before The Hobbit, creators J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay nevertheless found Tolkien’s guidelines for what happened back then, not only in his appendices but other hints throughout the texts.
“Tolkien is sort of a treasure hunt,” Payne said. “Often it’s a whispered thing that someone will say. You get a little nugget there, a little nugget there. Our job as storytellers has been to excavate that.”
As such, The Rings of Power is the first Tolkien adaptation where devoted readers can’t skip to the end of the book for spoilers.
“We weren’t interested in a show that was a nostalgia play, a retread, a reboot, or a sequel,” McKay said. “The stories are different stories than you’ve seen on screen with Tolkien. His themes are throughout the show, his language is throughout the show, his world, his characters, but audiences are going to be going on a new experience.”
(Photo by Matt Grace/Prime Video)
Payne listed some of the highlights they expanded upon.
“We’re going back to the time in which the Rings of Power were forged, the rise of the Dark Lord Sauron, the story of Tolkien’s Numenor which is Tolkien’s Atlantis, and finally the last alliance of elves and men,” Payne said. “We would really take the little clues Tolkien gave us and build them out into stories and characters … in some cases a single sentence buried in Tolkien.”
The actors also dug into Tolkien to find out more about their characters. Robert Aramayo plays young Elrond and said he enjoyed researching his character prior to the books.
“There’s a few nuggets,” Aramayo said. “OK, if you read that that way, that sort of fact-finding mission as a fan, I really enjoyed those decisions we got to make.”
(Photo by Ben Rothstein/Prime Video)
Morfydd Clark drew on some existing Galadriel dialogue to play a younger version of the character
“Galadriel says something that alludes to ‘with wisdom there’s a loss of innocence,’” Clark said. “That was really formative to me in terms of what does it mean to have innocence for a creature that would’ve been alive for thousands of years? She has a unique perspective because she is history.”
New characters had even more digging to do, since there’s no pre-existing adventures of their characters, noted Ismael Cruz Cordova, who plays the elf Arondir.
“We benefit from those nuggets that we keep talking about, the little currents that he left to explore and to bring it to a more diverse present,” Cordova said.
“In this season we were really trying to jam-packing it with as much story as we could,” Jacobson said. “We would love to have a second season. That’s not within our five person control right now, so I think we would all very much love that.”
League based its storylines on research that revealed a significant LGBTQ community amongst AAGPBL players, and former players like Maybelle Blair and softball player Billie Harris consulted on the show.
“I’ve never been part of a show like this that explored queerness, Blackness, intersectionality,” Reff said. “If this is the only time we get to do this, we want to leave it all on the field. I feel really proud of what we put out there but also the opportunity to go so much deeper into these stories if we can.”
Graham confirmed writing has already begun, and they have a hopeful start date in mind should Amazon greenlight them for more.
“We already know what we want to do with season 2, so we’re hoping to have as many season 2s as possible,” Graham said. “Our hope is to shoot in mid-spring. We’ll see how that works out with everything. This is our launch day. Now have this moment of seeing how it connects with the world. We’re just so happy and proud to be in this moment and be telling these stories and we can’t wait to go back and do more.”
High School is the Freevee series based on Tegan and Sara’s autobiography. To portray themselves in high school, The Quin twins discovered twins Railey and Seazynn Gilliland on TikTok.
“One day I opened TikTok and the algorithm knows me so well,” Tegan said. “Railey was giving a tour of her car and there was just a sweetness and vulnerability. Although it was very scary to imagine bringing in non actors and non musicians.”
Co-showrunner and director Clea DuVall, an actor herself, understood all they were asking of the TikTok stars. The Gillilands were not even aspiring actors, but they proved themselves.
“They came and they worked with an acting coach our casting directors found for them,” DuVall said. “The acting coach, before she was meeting them in person was like, ‘Don’t get your hopes up. It’s impossible. Turning non actors into actors is basically impossible. We’ll keep looking. This isn’t going to happen.’ Then she met them and worked with them a few times. She called me and said, ‘OK, these girls are really special.’”
The show also depicts Tegan (Railey) and Sara (Seazynn) writing their first song, “Tegan Didn’t Go to School Today.” Sara reflected on how their first demo became a focal point of a TV show years later.
“To have the first song we wrote put in the show shows young people can do amazing things right out of the gate,” Sara said. “Sometimes our first instinct is our best instinct.”
High School premieres Oct. 14 on Freevee.
Raising Hope and My Name Is Earl creator Greg Garcia created Sprung, which stars Garret Dillahunt and Martha Plimpton of Raising Hope. Dillahunt plays Jack, a convict released early because of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. He moves in with his cellmate Rooster (Philip Garcia) and his mother Barb (Plimpton). They go right back into a life of crime, but Jack uses some of their profit to fund good deeds.
“People are good people,” Garcia said. “There are just good people out there. I have an optimistic view of the world. When I’m out there and meeting people for the most part, people are kind. They all want the same thing at the end of the day. They want to protect their families have friends, they want to be liked, loved — that’s all universal stuff. I try very hard to remind us of that.”
Garcia was also careful not to belittle the pandemic.
“It’s the inciting incident that gets these people out of prison and there’s a backdrop of Covid,” Garcia said. “You don’t want to hit it too much and never want to make it seem like you’re making light of it because it’s been a tragic event for so many people.”
As for the Raising Hope reunion, both Dillahunt and Plimpton also appeared on Garcia’s previous show, The Guest Book.
“He is very averse to clowning in that way and over the top,” Plimpton said. “He wants these people to be human beings.”
The trio is excited for audiences to meet the new additions Philip Garcia, Shakira Barrera, Clare Gillies, and James Earl. They concurred that the comedy came from playing the reality of the characters.
“Some of the best things to shoot and film were the maybe not so funny moments, the moments where we were being truthful, the real human moments,” Phillip Garcia said.
Sprung premieres Aug. 19 on Freevee.
The creators of Jungle also believe in the good intentions of people; however, their show explores why good people turn to crime. Set in the U.K. underworld and starring rap and drill music stars, crime show Jungle comes from creators Junior Okoll and Chas Appeti.
“I don’t think there’s any one individual in any part of the world that wants to live an unwholesome life,” Okoll said. “It’s the options they feel are viable to them. No one actually wants to live an unwholesome life. It’s encouraging the youth to be bold. It’ll pay dividends later down the line, it really will. Sometimes traveling and putting yourself in situations that push you and that challenge you, that’s what makes you flourish as a human. A lot of these individuals are stuck in situations, scenarios, and environments that don’t make them flourish because it’s what they’re used to. They don’t venture out.”
Appeti, who has been partners with Okoll for seven years, agreed. He said pursuing his art gave him a positive focus
“I had a lot of friends that didn’t take the right path,” Appeti said. “Deep down, if you really really love doing something you’ll make that choice and make that effort to do something. It’s hard. It’s definitely difficult to do that. I think it’s just an inner desire to want to do that and think that you can do it. A lot of people want to do it but they don’t apply themselves.”
Jungle premieres Sept. 30 on Prime Video.