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TCA Winter Press Tour 2019 – HBO is Next
February 10, 2019  | By Roger Catlin
 

PASADENA, CA – After days of rain, unseasonably cool weather and clouds, the sun eventually came out at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour in Pasadena and so did HBO, bringing some extra star power to help kick off six days of cable and streaming services.

To the already impressive array of stars from Big Little Lies, returning for a second season in June — Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, and Shailene Woodley — came a supernova, Meryl Streep herself, who will join the glossy mystery series as Kidman’s mother-in-law.

“I loved this show,” said the three-time Oscar winner, who has the record for number of nominations. “I was addicted to it. I thought it was an amazing exercise in what we know and what we don’t know about people; about family, about friends, how it flirted with the mystery of things — what was unsaid, unshown, unknown was sort of the pull, the gravitational pull of the piece. And it was so exciting. So, when I got the chance to join the crew, I thought, yeah!”

Big Little Lies, based on the book of the same name, was always meant to be a single season, said Kidman, who is also an executive producer. But “there was an enormous demand from the audience,” Kidman said. “I’ve never been in something that reached so far, globally.”

The new season will do with the aftermath of the first, about dark secrets of domestic abuse, rape, and murder in a wealthy seaside community.

“It ended on a very open note of what’s going to happen next,” said David E. Kelley, its writer and executive producer. “Will the lie have a life? Will it have a malignancy? What will it do to the equation of these friends, these relationships, the marriage? So, there was a lot of fertile storytelling ground to be mined.”

“We all had unresolved issues,” said Witherspoon of the ensemble’s characters. “We’ve experienced trauma, we see each other’s trauma, but how do we cope with it? And how do we go on and how do we carry on? So that was a big theme that we explored in Season 2.”

“This exploration of abuse and its provenance, where it comes from, why it continues, how people survive it, all those questions were in the air,” when Season 1 first aired, Streep said. Big Little Lies, she said, “fed something that was a hunger, that had a ready audience.”

Seeing the script, Streep said, “you smell that it’s necessary. You really feel like it owns its place and you want to be — you want to contribute to it. You feel like you have something to say about it. This piece, for me, because I have four grown children, I’m playing someone who is dealing with whatever the deficits of her parenting were, and the mysteries in that, and how you can’t go back in time and fix something. All those issues, that was interesting to me. And it felt real, honest, honestly investigated. David really understood that part. I felt like I had something to give to this piece.”

“It feels very exciting and good for me to be able to portray a character who has had extreme trauma in her life and who now is able to work on the other end of that trauma,” said Woodley, the youngest of the central cast of women. “What does it look like once this ghost in her closet is gone? How does she cope from that, and how does she move forward in a way that’s healthy for her and her son, while also continuing to co-exist with a bunch of women who maybe aren’t in the same boat as her — from her history, from her past — but moving forward are aligned or in commitment to standing with one another, helping one another?”

The seven-episode second season ought to wrap up the story, Kelley said. “We like where our closure is at the end of Season 2, so that will probably be it.”

But, Kidman reminded him, “That’s what you said last time.”

*******

Documentary films seemed to take up a more significant share of HBO’s portion of Press Tour. There were panels for two upcoming films. One was Alex Gibney’s look into the implosion of the Silicon Valley startup, Theranos, whose valuation went from $9 billion to zero: The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, airing March 18. The other is Laura Berg’s four-part The Case Against Adnan Syed that looks deeper into the murder at the heart of the first season of the podcast Serial, starting March 10.

But the network also announced consecutive night airdates, March 3 and 4, for the controversial Leaving Neverland documentary on charges of abuse by Michael Jackson that just played Sundance.

The two-part documentary What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali, on HBO May 14, uses Ali’s own words for the narration. It’s produced by LeBron James and directed by Antoine Fuqua.

The behind-the-scenes political film Running with Beto, airing in May, chronicles the Beto O’Rourke senate run. “A year ago, before anybody knew who he was, HBO had agreed to do a film with David Modigliani, and he was embedded with Beto for the full year, and it’s an incredible look at how arduous these political campaigns are,” said Quentin Schaffer, HBO's EVP of Corporate Communications.

Other upcoming HBO documentaries include Marc Levin’s One Nation Under Stress, March 25, and in April, a Duplass brothers film about an all-autistic comedy troupe, On Tour with Asperger’s Are Us, a climate change documentary about reducing carbon called Ice on Fire, and a look at the sexual abuse case of Dr. Larry Nassar in At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal.

In May, Foster looks into the foster care system in Los Angeles.

On Feb. 18, Dyana Winkler and Tina Brown’s United Skates looks at the African-American subculture of roller skating and how it has been threatened.

The five-part miniseries Chernobyl isn’t a documentary, but Craig Mazin’s script aims to hew close to the facts of the 1986 nuclear accident. It stars Jared Harris, Emily Watson, Paul Ritter, Stellan Skarsgård and Jessie Buckley and was shot at a decommissioned Ignalina Nuclear Plant in Lithuania.

The series, which starts in May, will rank with the network’s previous work “capturing inflection points in human history,” said Kary Antholis, President of HBO Miniseries, among them From the Earth to the Moon, Band of Brothers, Angels in America, John Adams, and The Pacific.

There was just one new show announcement, a late-spring Spanish-language comedy from Lorne Michaels and Fred Armisen, Los Espookys in which Armisen will star with his co-creators Ana Fabrega and Julio Torres.

But some were disappointed that there was no farewell panel for Game of Thrones which presents its final seven chapters in April.

“This is what the panel would be like,” Schaffer said. “It would be, ‘Could you tell us what’s happening with Jon Snow?’ No. ‘Could you tell us what’s happening with Daenerys?’ No. ‘Could you tell us who inherits the throne?’ No. ‘Could you tell us anything?’ Yes, it premieres Sunday, April 14 on HBO. That you already know. So, that’s why we aren’t doing Game of Thrones.”

Another good example might have been the panel for Veep, which is having its own seven-episode final season premiering March 31.

The panel for Veep was kind of a shambles, in part because star Julia Louis-Dreyfus was in Austria for some reason and the satellite feed she was on had about a two-second delay. “Always great for comedy,” Schaffer said.

“This is how Julia and I have interacted for the last three years,” deadpanned writer, director, and showrunner David Mandel. “I’ve never actually met her. It’s always satellite delay.”

“I’ve been living in Austria for the last four years,” she replied, after a moment.

“The show is mostly green screen,” Mandel said.

 
 
 
 
 
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