All the juicy details from ATX Television Festival, including 'Veronica Mars' and 'Archer'
No need to go behind the scenes at some Hollywood sound stage. Thanks to ATX Television Festival, we can get the dish on our small-screen favorites right here in Austin.
The festival returned June 6-9, bringing celebrities, TV industry insiders and fans together for a weekend of screenings and panels. Here's what we learned at the fest. If we didn't catch your favorite show while it was in town, don't worry. The fest says all the panels were recorded for its podcast, the TV Campfire. Go to atxfestival.com to find out more.
We saw a clip from the coming miniseries — and were sworn to secrecy about contents, but it’s hot, Marshmallows. Creator Rob Thomas was joined by actors Enrico Colantoni (Keith Mars), Jason Dohring (Logan Echolls), Percy Daggs III (Wallace Fennel) and moderator Sarah Rodman of Entertainment Weekly for a free-wheeling discussion about the show’s past, present and possible future (they are open to more installments after the July Hulu miniseries). Some tidbits:
• Veronica is 34 (!) now, and Thomas wanted to explore that tension we’ve seen many times in male characters: commitment, family, mortgage, your basic adulting vs. freedom. She’s at a crossroads.
• She and Logan are still very much together.
• Logan’s dynamic with Keith, Wallace and others in Veronica’s life has changed. They’re friends! That was fun to explore, especially since they’re all close in the real world (Echolls and Daggs have kids around the same ages; they even threw axes together in Austin, according to Dohring’s Instagram story).
• Thomas announced that all three seasons of the show will be available starting July 1 on Hulu. All the new miniseries episodes will drop on July 26, which has Thomas a little worried about the show’s central mystery getting spoiled online too early.
• There will be bombs in Neptune during spring break. Austin native Thomas says he was writing the scripts during the Austin bombings and one of his cousins is a police officer here, so it was on his mind.
• They wrote for TV-MA (because Hulu) and then had to adjust when told, no, actually it’s TV-14 for this one. There’s a creative gag about cursing that runs throughout.
• Plenty of fan-favorite and integral secondary characters will pop up, including Deputy Leo (Max Greenfield, and not a deputy anymore). Veronica will make a trip to Chino prison, where she’ll encounter a few folks she helped put behind bars.
— Sharon Chapman, American-Statesman staff
“One Day at a Time”
The main message: There is still hope for the show’s future after Netflix canceled it (see #saveodaat on social media). We watched the very moving episode that had Rita Moreno’s Lydia Riera in a coma and every main character delivering a monologue about what she means to them. Many tears! Plus laughs, of course. This show should be saved! Some moments from the panel afterward:
• Representation matters, and this show represents a lot of communities: Latinx to LGBTQ to military. Creator Mike Royce talked about the crucial addition of executive producer and writer Gloria Calderon Kellett during the series' development.
• Justina Machado (who played Penelope Alvarez) didn’t know the show would be filmed in front of a live audience when she was cast. She told a sweet story about working with Moreno three other times before the series — and Moreno not remembering any of them. “She remembers me now!”
• Todd Grinnell (Schneider) talked about his sobriety journey and how parts of that were worked into his character’s storyline. Grinnell also got to direct during season three.
• Stephen Tobolowsky (Dr. Berkowitz) said one of the strengths of the show is that they talk about things that people don’t usually talk about, which forges a connection with the audience.
• Actress Isabella Gomez (Elena) had to miss the Saturday panel for work and sent a sweet video message talking about the hope for the show’s future and thanking fans.
• Rita Moreno is a national treasure and a joy to work with, based on the panel.
You’ve probably never seen anything like the new HBO series from comedians Julio Torres, Ana Fabrega and Fred Armisen. It is a horror-comedy for people who love horror.
• At a post-screening Q&A Friday at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, Armisen said about the show that he thinks people’s love of horror movies is its own genre and that the creators wanted to capture the goth scene in Mexico City.
• The show is primarily in Spanish with English subtitles, which was always the plan, Fabrega said. And HBO never stopped the creators with notes that “Los Espookys” was veering into too-niche territory, she said.
• In the first episode of “Los Espookys” (screened for festival attendees), the titular friends (played by Torres, Fabrega and Mexican actors Bernardo Velasco and Cassandra Ciangherotti, who both have mostly worked in drama before this show) band together to stage scares for people who need them ― say, a priest who needs to whip up an exorcism but doesn’t have a real demon handy. “This is the other side of ‘Scooby-Doo’ that we never get to see,” Armisen said.
• Torres is a standout, describing his character Andrés as “half vampire, half C-3PO.” In addition to “Scooby-Doo,” Torres said the magical realism of Brazilian soap operas he watched as a kid were a big inspiration for the wonderfully weird world of the show.
"Los Espookys" premieres June 14 on HBO.
― Eric Webb, American-Statesman staff
The current season of the FXX animated comedy takes the sarcastic Sterling Archer and his coworkers to the far-flung intergalactic world of … 1999.
• Since “Archer” is a show that loves to reference other shows, producer Matt Thompson was ready with a list of fictional futures that inspired the creators: “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “2010: The Year We Make Contact,” “Firefly,” “Alien,” “Aliens,” “Battlestar Galactica” and, in the episode screened at the fest Saturday at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, the “Star Trek” episode “The Trouble With Tribbles.” Oh, and fan-favorite character Pam has been reimagined as a rock monster for “Archer: 1999,” inspired by Igoo the rock ape from “The Herculoids.”
• Actor H. Jon Benjamin, who voices Archer, said he thinks the character has softened a little over 10 seasons, and he likes playing the more touching scenes. (Not that there are too many of those.) At Archer’s core, Benjamin thinks, the womanizing spy (or whatever else he is these days) loves his partner Lana (voiced by Aisha Tyler). To wit, one of Benjamin’s favorite scenes in the show: When Archer found out he was a father, back a few seasons ago.
• Thompson was full of juicy details for longtime fans. For example, he considers one of his main jobs to be explaining the show’s dirty jokes to Jessica Walter, who voices the imperious Mallory Archer.
• He also said there have only been two things FXX (or FX, its parent network) has asked the creators not to include in the raunchy show: a joke about Germany being the “Alabama of Europe” in regard to age-of-consent laws and a bit where Archer tosses a baby into the air to get some enemies to drop their guns. So if you were wondering, those are the lines “Archer” can’t cross.
The Freeform spin-off of ABC’s “Black-ish” brought its stars out Saturday at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz: Yara Shahidi, Francia Raisa, Jordan Buhat and Trevor Jackson, as well as producer Craig Doyle.
• The show’s current season sees Shahidi’s Zoey Johnson start to lose some of the comfort of her socioeconomic bubble, after her father cuts her off. “I really appreciate the journey her entire girl group goes on” as Zoey starts to deal with some of the struggles they’ve long grappled with, Shahidi said.
• Doyle also said that producing a socially conscious show is not without its challenges: “It’s hard not to make it a PSA.”
Inclusion & Access panel
The pipeline of talent to Hollywood’s bounty of streaming services and TV opportunities and the struggle of women and people of color to get in the door was a big theme across lots of panels at the festival. On this Thursday panel, which featured executives from ABC Signature, Canada’s Entertainment One, Freeform and the independent production house Campanario Entertainment, panelists urged attendees who want to break into the business to take advantage of writing and producing programs and mentoring.
• Campanario’s Jaime Davila, who produces Bravo’s “Mexican Dynasties” and an upcoming Selena show for Netflix, said, “There’s a huge market change that when I started wasn’t there with shows like ‘Vida’ and ‘One Day at a Time.’"
• Elizabeth Boykewich said her network, Freeform, is one that has led the way in casting, not only for race but in terms of highlighting characters with disabilities. “It’s always been part of the discussion for us; it’s nice that everybody else is getting on board,” she said.
• The panelists agreed that a big priority should be making sure executive ranks are representative, too, and that producers buy into diversity initiatives and colorblind casting.
• It’s still a struggle to break through, the panelists said, but the explosion of peak TV is a big opportunity. “I feel wildly empowered,” said Jacqueline Sacerio from Entertainment One. “We need fresh ideas more than ever.”
― Omar L. Gallaga, special to the American-Statesman
“Wannabes” unproduced live script reading
At ATX Television Festival, the reading of orphaned pilot scripts is always a highlight, with actors taking on roles for a TV show we’ll never actually see and creators discussing what went wrong.
The twist at this year’s reading of “Wannabes,” a script by Courtney and Edward Kirkpatrick, was that the show, about young rock musicians in 1997 Fort Worth, is actually in production. The festival itself is helping the show get made with Paramount Television and is currently searching for a director.
• The half-hour comedy is awash in references to 1990s culture (MTV News, “The Adventures of Pete and Pete,” Gateway computers) and Texas (Shiner beer, the Dallas Stars, “Slacker”), but it’s essentially the story of two best friends in a band.
• The creators said Friday that they thought about setting the show in Austin but wanted a place that was much less cool at the time for more of an underdog feel. The live script reading, with standout work from Haley Tju (“Bella and the Bulldogs”) and Nick Wechsler (“Roswell”) was a welcome dose of nostalgia, but a real version of it will likely live or die by the music in the series. There’s a lot of music in the pilot.
A post-reading panel with showrunners Graham Yost (“Justified”), Laura Chinn (“Florida Girls”), Anna Fricke (“Being Human”) and Bad Robot executive Rachel Rusch was a welcome dose of reality: Even successful TV creators have lots of rejection stories, pilot scripts that never got shot and stories of projects they loved that were shelved for reasons completely out of their control.
The most unique show presented at this year's fest might have been “Undone,” a rotoscope-animated half-hour drama set in San Antonio.
Created by “BoJack Horseman” veteran Kate Purdy and produced by “BoJack” creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg, the upcoming Amazon Prime Video series is reality-bending and visually dazzling, but it's deeply rooted in realistic character moments and family trauma.
It’s the story of Alma (Rosa Salazar, “Alita: Battle Angel”), a day care worker who struggles with depression and who, despite having a great boyfriend and a loving family, feels she’s in a major rut. It turns out that a lot of her problems are rooted in her relationship with her father (Bob Odenkirk, doing excellent work), who died under (perhaps?) mysterious circumstances.
• Two episodes of the series were presented; the pilot feels like the setup for a very well-written and acted drama about sisters and life as a late-twenty-something dealing with mental illness, to the point that the animation starts to feel unnecessary. But the second episode begins to twist the show in a direction of magical realism and nods to shows such as “Russian Doll.” There’s more to reality and time than our perception shows us, the show suggests, and it feels as if the rest of the series is going to be a trippy spiritual and emotional journey for Alma.
• The backgrounds of the show are all original oil paintings and, especially on the big screen, “Undone” is gorgeous. But audiences who find it will need to get past the first episode, which doesn’t make a solid case for why the show is animated. The animation was done in part by Austin’s Minnow Mountain studio, which worked on Richard Linklater’s 2006 “A Scanner Darkly.”
• Bob-Waksberg, whose “BoJack Horseman” has become one of the best shows on television about depression and loss, said in a post-screening panel Saturday, “('Undone') feels like a really special story. We wanted to push the edge of what an audience expects from an animated show.”
There’s no release date yet for “Undone,” but Purdy promised the first season will be available soon as production wraps up in July.
“Alternatino With Arturo Castro"
Comedy Central has probably had as much success with sketch-comedy series as any other network (OK, fine, NBC, we’ll give you “Saturday Night Live”). “Key & Peele,” “Inside Amy Schumer” and, of course, “Chappelle’s Show” have all raised the bar on what sketch can do on TV. The network's newest show to follow that legacy is “Alternatino,” which debuts June 18.
• The pilot episode, screened at Saturday at the fest, is funny and wide-ranging, and it's a great showcase for star Arturo Castro (“Broad City,” “Narcos”), who acknowledges multiple times in the show that he doesn’t fit into any particular Latinx box. The actor, who was a teen immigrant from Guatemala, plays versions of himself in several sketches as a very soft, very non-macho guy, particularly in a four-part sketch about dating.
• There’s some topicality, from an opening sketch about a dad’s frustration with identity labels, and a musical number taking off from Donald Trump’s tossing of paper towels after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. But “Alternatino” largely shies away from politics or pointed takedowns on race to focus on spotlights for Castro’s acting and very likable energy.
• When the screening was over, Castro joked, “I have no performance critiques at all. How can I be less good?”
• Show director Nicholas Jasenovec joined Castro for a short panel in which the two described the sketches as less scattershot as YouTube and more like short films. Unlike some sketch shows, Castro doesn’t perform standup or do stage bits with an audience between sketches.
• The pilot episode is strong, buoyed by clever ideas and the occasional curveball, such as a hilarious sketch in which the country of Guatemala picks a fight with Costa Rica for your tourism dollars. Uninterested in starting a war, Castro said that Costa Rica will get to respond in full in a future episode.