The Television Critics Association winter tour steamrolled along on Friday. The morning started with a presentation from National Geographic with a panel for their Academy Award nominated documentary “Free Solo.” Rock climber Alex Honnold was on stage with his girlfriend and film producers.
The morning continued with Ovation where Julia Stiles discussing her upcoming drama “Riviera” (debuts Feb. 9) where she plays an art curator, and Sam Neill talking about his six-part documentary series “The Pacific: In the Wake of Captain Cook” (debuts Feb. 14) which follows the adventures of the famous explorer. However, the highlight of day was the afternoon, which was all about HBO.
Here are the most notable moments from today.
HBO premiere date announcements
HBO didn’t have a formal executive session, they just got down to business. The first announcement was that, “Leaving Neverland,” the four hour documentary on Michael Jackson, will air on March 3 and 4. “Veep” returns for a final season on March 31.
A two-part documentary on Muhammed Ali debuts May 14. It was also announced that “Big Little Lies” will return for a second season in June. A Spanish language comedy, “Les Espookys,” from Fred Armisen and Lorne Michaels will also debut in June.
On the Cinemax side, there were two new series announced. “Warrior,” an action crime drama set in San Francisco’s Chinatown set in the second half of the 19th century, debuts April 5. “Jett,” stars Carla Gugino a world class thief. It premieres in June.
Showrunner Dave Mandel was onstage while series star Julia Louis-Dreyfus joined TV critics via satellites from Austria. The series wraps up with a seven episode final season.
The conversation was wide-ranging but included topics such as Donald Trump, feelings on the show’s final season and “Veep’s” storylines crossing over with real life.
Because Julia was in Austria, there was a few second delay in her hearing questions that were asked from critics. This led to a hilarious panel, which you probably would expect from the show runner and star of “Veep.” For example, as the session ended Julia Louis-Dreyfus, via satellite, is told by the moderator, "We're gonna turn you off, Julia.” Five-seconds later, "Well, SCREW YOU," she responded.
The highlight: Dave Mandel joked that he gave Julia cancer, which sounds morbid, but brought a raucous laugh from critics and Louis-Dreyfus. The joke showed the bond between the two.
The Case Against Adnan Syed
The next panel was for the investigative documentary, “The Case Against Adnan Syed” and consisted of director Amy Berg and three people who were subjects of the documentary.
If you’ve heard the popular “Serial” podcast, you’re most like familiar with this case. The podcast investigates the 1999 murder of an 18-year-old female high school student from Baltimore named, Hae Min Lee. Her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, would end up being convicted of her murder but the podcast brought up a lot of questions as to whether he was wrongly convicted.
“The Case Against Adnan Syed” takes a deep dive into the case and even moves into the current day as Syed could possibly get a new trial almost 20 years after being put in jail.
The series, which has been in production since 2015, debuts on March 10.
Up next was a panel for the five part mini-series “Chernobyl.” On the panel were actors Emily Watson (“Red Dragon”), Jared Harris (“Mad Men,” “The Crown”) and Jessie Buckley (“Taboo”) and writer Craig Mazin.
The mini-series dramatizes the true story of one of the worst man-made catastrophes in history, and tells of the men and women who sacrificed to save Europe from disaster. Jared Harris plays Valery Legasov, the Soviet scientist chosen by the Kremlin to investigate the accident. The plot focuses on the scope of the nuclear plant disaster that occurred in Ukraine in April 1986, revealing how and why it happened, and telling the stories of the heroes who died and tried to prevent catastrophe.
The trailer was dark and brooding, but considering the topic, this isn’t surprising. Writer Craig Mazin even said that, “In many ways it’s a war story.” He balanced that by adding, “Only humans could have made Chernobyl happen; only humans could solve something like Chernobyl. It was through a passive neglect of truth that it happened." Sounds like a deep and compelling story, looking forward to this one.
The short series will premiere this winter.
The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley
I remember seeing the story of Theranos on “60 Minutes” so I’m quite interested in seeing a deep dive into Elizabeth Holmes.
The documentary traces the meteoric rise and precipitous decline of Elizabeth Holmes and her tech company, Theranos. With a new invention that promised to revolutionize blood testing and provide low-cost, early detection of diseases and infections, Holmes became the world's youngest self-made billionaire, heralded as the next Steve Jobs. A few months later, her $9-billion company was worthless.
The documentary airs on HBO on March 18.
Big Little Lies
The final HBO panel of the day was for “Big Little Lies.” On the stage were actors Zoe Kravitz, Laura Dern, Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep, Shailene Woodley and series creator/writer David E. Kelley.
Meryl Streep joining the cast has been by far the most important news about season two. Streep plays Celeste’s (Nicole Kidman) mother-in-law and wants some answers about what happened to her son. In case you forgot, Perry (Alexander Skarsgard) dies in season one. I won’t spoil it for you as to how, but you really should have watched it already. Season one came out two years ago.
Season two explores more of Bonnie’s character (Zoe Kravitz), Celeste’s difficulties moving on from the death of her abusive husband. There’s also a clear divided between the women of “Big Little Lies” and the rest of the community. The group is now referred to as The Monterey Five, and not because they formed a band together.
The cast is well aware of the high bar that was set in season one but seem up to the challenge. David E. Kelley has an amazing track record, and along with the strong force that is producers Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, the second season looks to be in good hands even though it isn’t based on a novel like season one.
Highlight: Meryl Streep jokingly deadpanning, “When I think back to the 19th century when I began…” which brought laughs from the crowd of critics.
Lowlight: David E. Kelley said there was no plans for a third season of “Big Little Lies.” Nicole Kidman confirmed it shortly after that.