Day 2 of the cable portion of the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour brought with it a wide assortment of panels, ranging from an introspective “Nature Boy” Ric Flair to the passionate activists of HBO’s Baltimore Rising to the bobbing and weaving question evasion of Larry David.
Many of the biggest headlines related to HBO programming president Casey Bloys discussing the controversial Confederate — our full coverage — but it was a day full of amusing and controversial moments, plus a double dose of Mark Duplass.
Some highlights and lowlights:
Yellowface in 2017. HBO’s Casey Bloys had a much better second TCA executive session than his first, which became a confusing message about sexual violence on the network. The exec took responsibility for HBO’s poor messaging in announcing Confederate last week and seemed well-prepared for those questions. He was less well-prepared for a question about My Dinner With Hervé, the upcoming telefilm in which Peter Dinklage plays Herve Villechaize, specifically the whitewashing of a man who has been generally described as half-Filipino. Bloys‘ first approach was to say that Villechaize’s family isn’t sure that they’re Filipino. To the contention that Villechaize definitely came from some ethnic background that Dinklage does not, Bloys responded, “I would say it is a valid question. But to me, the benefit of really humanizing someone who has gone through this experience of acting in Hollywood, it does take a toll on someone. And I think it was very important for Peter to dramatize that and show it.” I remain skeptical.
Pimps Up, Questions About Exploitation and Commodification of Sexuality Down. Speaking of sexuality and sexual violence (which didn’t come up at all with Bloys this tour), both David Simon and Maggie Gyllenhaal were very prepared to talk about their 1970s-set drama The Deuce, in which pimps, prostitutes and the nascent adult film industry are featured heavily. “We’re not using misogyny as a currency to get you interested and if we’ve made something that is purely titillating, then damn us,” Simon said. Gyllenhaal, also a producer on the show, declared, “If the show also turns you on a little and then makes you consider what’s actually turning you on and the consequences for the people for the characters that are turning you on, of what’s getting you hot, I think it’s a better show. I think if you’re only going, ‘Oh, we’re not interested in this. This is terrible,’ and we’re all going to pat ourselves on the back for it, it doesn’t ever make you consider your position as a person in America right now in how sex is commodified. So, I hope it does both, actually. I hope it does a little of both.” [Our full Deuce panel coverage.]
My brother’s keeper. In Discovery’s Manhunt: Unabomber, Mark Duplass plays the brother of the man who turned out to be the Unabomber. As you may know, Duplass rather famously works with his brother Jay, who hasn’t yet turned out to be the Unabomber. That we know of. This made the Discovery anthology series accessible for him. “I work very closely with my brother and have done so for the last 20 years,” Duplass said. “We are best friends, and we are soulmates. And we make movies together, and we see each other all the time. And I love him so much, and I want to beat the shit out of him all the time. And when [showrunner] Greg [Yaitanes] called me and was, like, ‘Would you have any connection to playing the brother of the Unabomber?’ I was, like, ‘Yeah. My brother and I, we spiritually and emotionally unabomb each other all the time. So I think I could, I think I can get into this.'”
Apocalypse Sometime Later. Earlier societies used to worry that eclipses were a sign of the apocalypse, but two of three experts on the panel for Science Channel’s Great American Eclipse agreed that the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse does not herald the coming of the apocalypse. Among other superstitions and urban legends, Angela Des Jardins, director of the Montana Space Grant Consortium and leader of the Eclipse Ballooning Project, had one she wanted to debunk. “You have to be safe, absolutely, but there are many, many safe ways to observe it,” she said. “And there’s lots of interesting stories, historic stories, which I think are fantastic; but for me, the No. 1 thing to debunk is that it’s dangerous. There’s nothing more dangerous about it than the ordinary sun.”
The Puffy Octopus Chair. Mark Duplass made a second appearance during the HBO part of the day, joined by Jay for the anthology Room 104, and he was asked about unabombing his brother constantly and was quick to correct: “‘Emotional Unabomb‘ is what I said, if you’re going to quote me while I’m in the room.” He also summed up the brothers’ television/cinema low-budget approach in comparison to B-movie auteur Roger Corman. “We’ve been obsessed with Roger Corman for years in the way of the filmmakers he fostered,” Duplass explained, “We’ve always talked about, like, if on our tombstone it says, ‘They were like Roger Corman, except they took out the octopuses and put in feelings instead,’ like, we would be super happy.”
Avatar, The Terse Wordbender. The TCA press tour probably isn’t the right time to get an Avatar scoop anyway, but Sam Worthington was not having any questions about how different he looked on the panel from in his role as profiler Jim Fitzgerald in Unabomber: Manhunt. Asked about said new look, the actor just replied, “Fitz didn’t look like this” — followed by silence.
Curb your coverage. Speaking of people who don’t like to give direct answers to questions, Wednesday ended with over a half-hour of evasion and amiable insults courtesy of Larry David, the sort of panel that feels hilarious in person and ultimately reduces to half-sentence, semi-sincere sound bites like, “That’s what television essentially is, copying” and “I don’t know if you’re aware of this or not, but TV Larry is just about a quarter of an inch away from real Larry.” I’m looking forward to the upcoming Curb Your Enthusiasm season, but trust me, the panel was a “You had to be there” affair. [Our full Curb Your Enthusiasm panel coverage.]
In praise of conflicts of interest. ESPN’s Samantha Ponder is married to NFL free agent quarterback Christian Ponder, and as she’s moving from college football coverage to Sunday NFL Countdown, it at least raises the possibility that she could find herself covering her husband’s potential team. Ponder first emphasized that she doesn’t view herself as a pure journalist, or at least a hard journalist, so it’s less worrisome. She added, “I think the difference is there is a level of professionalism that says, ‘No matter how I really feel on the inside, I am going to ask fair questions, and my goal is going to be to get at the truth and serve the fans as much as possible.’ And if that meant — let’s say my husband is playing this year — if that meant asking guys fair questions about his performance and letting them give honest responses, I have no problem doing that. And because I’m comfortable knowing that that’s how I will handle those situations, I don’t really think it’s much of an issue. And as a side note, I really also believe sometimes you can get better information, more nuanced information and interesting information from people who are connected to guys on the team.”
Check back tomorrow for Thursday’s Turner cable and Hulu highlights…