Alexander Woo jokes that if viewers enjoyed the first season of AMC's anthology series The Terror, "you'll get exactly none of it in the second season."
Which, of course, is not entirely true: The Terror: Infamy, which premiered Monday night, offers up a similar blend of a horrific real-life event — the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II — with elements of horror storytelling.
"I think we do share a lot of the DNA. The idea of The Terror as an overarching franchise is that we're telling an historical story using a genre vocabulary," Woo, the showrunner of Infamy, told The Hollywood Reporter. "Now that is a pretty broad definition. The tone is very different from season one to season two, but we do share some similarities in that both shows are about a group of people who are in a land where they're not welcome and that the horror is as much human-generated as it is supernaturally generated."
Monday's premiere lays the groundwork for both: It takes place in the days leading up to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, that marked U.S. entry into World War II, beginning with a woman's death and ending with the Japanese-born men of a community on Los Angeles' Terminal Island being loaded onto buses by members of the military while their families, including lead character Chester Nakayama Derek Mio, are held back by other soldiers.
Woo, who is Chinese American, said he was hesitant initially to take on the story he and fellow executive producer Max Borenstein are credited as creators of the season and "this is not historically my family's story."
"But as I steeped myself in the subject matter more and took a really deep dive into the internment, I recognize that this was the story of the Japanese Americans but not exclusively for Japanese Americans," he said. "It is a story that holds great relevance for anyone whose life has been shaped or touched by the immigrant experience, which frankly in this country is just about everyone."
Woo spoke to THR about shaping the story, populating the cast with actors of Japanese descent — including George Takei, who was interned as a boy and is a consultant on the show — and incorporating elements of contemporary Japanese horror into the show.
The premiere plays out mostly as a family drama, with the creepy opening and closing and a few other horror elements. How did you want to structure this story and balance the grounded and supernatural elements?
Because my background is in theater and I was a playwright, that's the only way I know how to approach telling a story, is through character. I think that's the great strength of television is that over an extended period of time, a relationship is built between the viewer and the characters. They feel real to you. And for anyone who has lived with a show for years, you feel a loss when characters die or when the show ends, you feel happy for them when good things happen or you're pissed off at them or fearful for their safety. It's a very powerful phenomenon of how these characters really come to life. So for me, always, the number one job is to build characters that feel real to the viewers so that they can engage with them — and specifically in this show, feel like they are living in their skin.
And when you do a period piece, frequently it's easy to feel at a safe remove from the history because you think, "Oh, that happened 75 years ago, that's nothing that could possibly affect us now." And I didn't want that feeling, I didn't want that docudrama feeling, because there have already been many wonderful documentaries made about the internment. But the strength of doing scripted television that is released episodically is that you can feel like you're really going on a journey with these people.
So for me, the first thing you have to do is create these three-dimensional characters that you feel connected to. And then the strategy of the show has been to use the vocabulary of kwaidan, Japanese ghost stories, and then by extension the Japanese horror movies that are descended from it, like The Ring and The Grudge, Dark Water, those kinds of movies, as an analogue for the terror of the historical experience so you really feel, using that horror, you really feel the horror of what these people are going through.
It seems that in addition to Chester and the younger generation that were born in the United States, the older characters also consider themselves Americans.
They consider themselves a part of this country. There is a recognition that I think is very poignant, that they also kind of know that they can never fully, fully assimilate. They legally cannot even become citizens. At this point legally it was impossible for these Japanese Americans to become citizens, the ones who were born overseas. But also culturally there as always going to be a divide.
And so in the case of our characters, they stay in this very insular community on this little island, which is a source of great frustration to Chester, who thinks I'm an American, you're in America, there's this whole country, you could be anywhere you want, why do you stay on this tiny little island? And that's part of the tension between generations that we start with.
Why was it important to you to cast exclusively Japanese-American and Japanese-Canadian actors playing Japanese characters?
It was important to me initially because we have a lot of characters speaking Japanese. And then during the casting process, it became evident that this is such a personal story to the Japanese-American community and so many Japanese Americans, unless their family moved here in the last 20, 30 years, you have immediate relatives who were interned.
And you had people like Derek Mio, who are telling the stories of their families. His grandfather was a fisherman from Terminal Island who was sent to Manzanar. His other grandfather served in the military, which is also a part of Chester's story in the course of our show. So he is telling the story of both of his grandfathers. ... By pure coincidence, this was not by design at all.
But we had so many members of our production, not just cast but crew as well, who were telling the stories of their ancestors, and there's no substitute for that.
What did George Takei bring to the show, both as an actor and as a consultant?
He brought so much. On a consultant level he told many stories of his day-to-day life in the camp. There's a movie-night scene at the beginning of the third episode; it's a scene that he told us about. And because he is an actor and a storyteller himself, he gave us a perspective that is hard to glean from history books.
And it's not just George, it's a number of survivors of the internment that we spoke to who wanted to emphasize that the story of the internment wasn't just one of pure misery, though of course it was miserable. But it's also the story of the great resilience and resourcefulness of the Japanese Americans who were imprisoned. So you see scenes of people playing baseball, you see scenes of people persevering. ... We wanted to honor that as much as possible too, and George was a big part of that.
What was your level of knowledge of internment when you started on the season?
I felt like I knew a good amount. As I discovered, I barely scratched the surface, and in our 10 hours we barely scratched the surface as well. One big thing I knew nothing about was that there was a Japanese-Canadian Internment. And when we shot in Vancouver, that racetrack scene that you see in episode two is the exact racetrack, Hastings Park, where the Japanese Canadians were detained while the Canadian camps were being built.
And Jason Furukawa, our first AD, on the first day we shot there, at the end of the safety meeting, says, "And by the way, if you're curious, my parents were interned in stable seven and eight, right there."
We had a background actor who only told me at the end of the show that his parents, who were Japanese Canadian and were interned, didn't like to speak of it. And this was very common — not to pass on the suffering to their children. But he never got to hear their story very much until he was working as background ... and he realized he was standing in the exact same spot that his parents were 75 years ago. He is in his 60s now. And he thought in that moment he understood what his parents went through.
Can you talk a little about the Japanese legends and ghost stories you researched?
The spirit world in our show is something that to the older generation, the Issei generation, is completely real, it's as real as you or I. The spirits are all around us. And we used the belief in spirits as a way to delineate the gap between that generation and Chester's generation, who believes that that's all old country superstition.
There's a number of words that the Issei generation used to describe what's going on. They used bakemono or obake or yurei, and they all mean slightly different things because they're not sure what it is yet. Bakemono is a general term for a somewhat malevolent spirit. I know obake is more general and could be benevolent or malevolent, we don't know. And then a yurei is a very specific spirit, a vengeful ghost of a human being who was wronged in life or did not receive a proper burial who is constantly hungry for vengeance and there is no way to satiate it. And that's a very specific thing. But no one is sure what it is at the beginning, so they bandy about a bunch of different terms.
How did you go about blending the historical setting and these legends with the call-outs to more modern Japanese horror?
A lot of these are homages to our favorite Japanese horror movies. We planted some Easter eggs, sometimes just in the very, very deep background. And if you miss it, you miss it, but the camera doesn't call attention to it and it's just there and maybe on a rewatch it's like oh my god, it was there, watching me the whole time.
That's the vocabulary of that style of filmmaking that we used as a template to tell our story. Our DPs, John Conroy and Barry Dunleavy, and all of our directors, but starting with the director of our first two episodes, JosefWladyka, really embraced that storytelling style. And not necessarily horror even but Japanese filmmaking. So there's some framing that is a direct homage to Ozu, and there's some stuff from Kobayashi's Kwaidan.
What can you say about the rest of the season?
We are telling the scope of the historical story, which includes in large part the Internment, but also we're not locked into the camp the whole time because there were many Japanese Americans who went to war and served in the military, which is its own.. fraught with its own set of challenges.
And one thing that George really emphasized, and that many survivors of the internment emphasize as a huge part of the story, is the resettlement from the internment, that the internment wasn't over when the camps closed. In fact, if anything it was an even greater challenge to resettle back in America to a country that was still at war with Japan and a country that was still in large part hostile to Japanese Americans with no money, except for the $25 that was given. You were given $25 and a one-way ticket.
Legion FX, 10:00 p.m. - We’ve reached the end of the road with this trippy comic book series from Noah Hawley. With Time Demons wreaking havoc and David trying to keep his darker personalities in check, the final showdown between Xavier, Legion, and Farouk will decide the fate of the world.
The Terror AMC, 9:00 p.m. - Season two of this historical mystery series is set in the early 1940s and follows a young Japanese American named Chester Nakayama, who’s caught between his traditional Japanese family and his All-American life outside of the home at the worst possible time in US history.
American Ninja Warrior NBC, 8:00 p.m. - Contestants face 10 obstacles at the Baltimore City Finals including “Angry Birds.”
Bachelor in Paradise ABC, 8:00 p.m. - Three women are sent packing following a dramatic rose ceremony and Blake has some explaining to do to Kristina.
Beat Shazam Fox, 8:00 p.m. - A sisterly duo face off against newlyweds and two best friends tonight.
Our Boys HBO, 9:00 p.m. - HBO’s Hebrew and Arabic mini-series recount the true story of a young Palestinian named Mohammed Abu Khdeir. Khdeir’s death was thought to be a revenge killing for the kidnap and murder of three Israeli boys just days earlier, an event that kickstarted the 2014 Israel-Gaza war. This show focuses mostly on a casualty of that conflict, a young boy brutally murdered whose death still carries weight so many years later.
Lodge 49 AMC, 10:00 p.m. - Liz find temp work as Dud recovers from his recent shark attack and the lodge comes under new ownership in the season two premiere.
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In 2018, “The Terror” turned a tragic shipwreck into a chilly parable exploring humanity’s darkest corners. Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated Arctic expedition was plagued, in one way or another, by a giant, man-eating polar bear long live Tuunbaq, but it was the fear inspired by the beast — and, more literally, the lethal cold ol’ Tuuny represented — that AMC’s drama was curious in exploring. Showrunners David Kajganich and Soo Hugh crafted a tale so detailed, so nightmarish, and so frickin’ cold that viewers felt the fear sink into their bones just as the subzero temperatures did to those sailors.
Now, less than a year-and-a-half later, “The Terror” returns for Season 2 with a fresh examination of fear set against an entirely different historical backdrop. From new showrunners Max Borenstein and Alexander Woo, “The Terror: Infamy” studies the horror felt by Japanese-Americans who saw their own country turn against them during World War II. The new season’s timely narrative — which can’t help but evoke the Trump administration’s shameful detention camps built along America’s Southern border — works its way under the onlookers’ skin much more than the special effects implement in Season 1, but the effect is largely the same: “The Terror” remains a thoughtful story of human nature, more haunting in its honesty than its ghosts.
But there are ghosts. “The Terror: Infamy” starts with an eerie sequence where a Japanese-American woman Yuki Morita in a soft, white kimono walks down a dock toward the ocean and ends her own life. Masayo’s unnatural movements before doing the deed speak to more than a simple sadness haunting her, and further evidence of supernatural interference quickly starts to stack up. At her funeral, Chester Nakayama Derek Mio tries to take photos for the family, but the developed prints show blurry faces next to clear ones. What’s happening is unclear, though its sinister nature is obvious.
Chester lives with his family on Terminal Island, a few miles south of Los Angeles and just off the coast of California. He and his father, Henry Shingo Usami, are fishermen, but Chester wants more. He’s in love with a Spanish-American student named Luz Ojeda Cristina Rodlo, and he can’t fathom why his immigrant mother, Asako Naoko Mori, and father choose to remain confined to one small swath of the big wide world, especially after traveling so far for the pursuit of freedom.
George Takei and Shingo Usami in “The Terror: Infamy”
Given the season’s title, it’s no spoiler to say the first episode’s events build up to December 7, 1941 — a point in time President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously labeled “a date which will live in infamy.” As Henry and Chester sit at the nearby military base, a giant clock is perched above their heads, so when the sirens start to sound and the Navy men begin running to their posts, there’s no mistaking what’s about to happen: The war has come home, though that phrase takes on a whole new meaning for the Japanese-American population uprooted from their lives and shipped off to internment camps.
These camps serve as the predominant setting through the first six episodes, and yet it’s impressive how much movement Borenstein and Woo create, both through forward narrative momentum and various disparate locations. Much of “Infamy” is grounded within the Nakayama family, but supporting characters are built out and a sprawling cast is well-utilized. As a yurei, or spirit, plagues Chester during his quest to prove himself as an independent man, bouts of seemingly madness create gruesome scenes that can’t be simply explained away — unless you believe in Japanese folklore.
There’s plenty of body horror — as limbs are twisted, torsos flipped, and necks cracked — but the cultural ties run deeper than film. Season 2 dives headfirst into the kaidan genre of Japanese literature, creating new ghost tales exhumed from mythic philosophy. Relying on such cultural touchstones is a respectful gesture to the very real suffering of the interned immigrants, as well as an affecting source of terror, even if the latter doesn’t compare to the distress felt by the former.
Kiki Sukezane in “The Terror: Infamy”
“The Terror: Infamy” works best when it invests in the natural drama of its characters, rather than the supernatural. While the performances can be rote, partially in service of the dense history being recreated, there’s a purity in their convictions and a power in their direct approach. When Chester’s fear for his family and himself starts to push him toward the edge, the good-natured, straight-shooting protagonist Mio has built thus far makes his spiral all the more unsettling. There aren’t a lot of surprises lurking in hidden layers of his turn, but Mio’s lead isn’t meant to be secretive: He’s showing his cards, pretty much all the time, and that works for scenes conjuring a ’40s era family melodrama.
Borenstein and Woo show a great deal of trust in the core story, the grand production design, and the modern parallels to carry most of “Infamy’s” emotional heft. While each beat of the story may play out as you expect, that inevitability largely makes the action itself more haunting. “The Terror” Season 2 can feel overly studious, with the supernatural horrors mixed in to keep you from spending each episode researching what really happened through Google. But through all the edifying, “Infamy” never forgets the human cost, or ignores the horrifying possibilities of what can happen when compassion is set aside out of fear.
“The Terror: Infamy” premieres Monday, August 12 at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.
Halloween is still a couple of months away, but the week of Aug. 12 brings a couple of very creepy series — one on cable and one on streaming — back to viewers. Also on tap are the latest HBO series from Danny McBride, a couple of stand-up specials and a cult favorite on cable.
Here is The Hollywood Reporter's rundown of some of the coming week's highlights. It would be next to impossible to watch everything, but let THR point the way to worthy options each week. All times are ET/PT unless noted.
The Big Show
Almost two years after its first season, Netflix's eerie drama Mindhunter opens its second season on Friday. The show jumps ahead a couple of years as well, putting Ford Jonathan Groff, Tench Holt McCallany and Carr Anna Torv in the middle of the Atlanta child murders case, the investigation for which stretched from 1979-81.
The new season also features more conversations with Edmund Kemper Cameron Britton and the team interviewing a host of other killers, including Charles Manson Damon Herriman, who also played Manson in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz — all while the BTK killer the ADT technician seen in several vignettes in season one continues killing people in Kansas. The new season will also further explore the emotional toll profiling murderers takes on the lead characters spoiler: It's heavy.
Also on streaming ...
Tiffany Haddish Presents: They Ready Tuesday, Netflix is a series of six half-hour comedy sets from comics Haddish wants to bring to a wider audience. Marc Cherry's darkly humorous Why Women Kill Thursday, CBS All Access follows three women Ginnifer Goodwin, Lucy Liu and Kirby Howell-Baptiste in different time periods who are dealing with cheating spouses. Amazon presents its first stand-up special, Jim Gaffigan: Quality Time Friday. Docuseries Diagnosis Friday, Netflix, based on the New York Times Magazine feature, aims to help people solve medical mysteries.
On cable ...
Returning: The second season of AMC's horror anthology The Terror is subtitled Infamy and is set in a Japanese American internment camp during World War II. Like the first season, the show will mix real-life horrors with supernatural elements; Infamy also features a cast entirely of Japanese-American and Japanese-Canadian actors, including George Takei, who was sent to an internment camp as a boy. It premieres at 9 p.m. Monday.
Also returning: New seasons of cult favorite Lodge 49 10 p.m. Monday, AMC, Adam Ruins Everything 10 p.m. Tuesday, TruTV, Black Ink Crew 9 p.m. Wednesday, VH1, followed by new spinoff Black Ink Crew: Compton at 10 and Love After Lockup 9 p.m. Friday, WE.
New: Danny McBride returns to HBO with The Righteous Gemstones 10 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 18, HBO, a comedy he created and stars in about a family that's built an evangelical empire. As THR critic Daniel Fienberg put it, fans of McBride's Eastbound and Down and Vice Principals will probably enjoy this new series as well. John Goodman, Adam Devine and Edi Patterson also star.
Also new: Intense Israeli drama Our Boys 9 p.m. Monday, HBO takes a detailed look at all sides of a revenge murder that led to the 2014 Israel-Gaza war. The Hebrew and Arabic language miniseries is "grim," per THR's review, but also features "superb performances."
On broadcast ...
New: The CW gets into the docuseries game with Mysteries Decoded 9 p.m. Tuesday, in which host Jennifer Marshall and a team of investigators use newly discovered evidence and advanced tech to re-examine famous historical mysteries.
Also: After a five-week hiatus, NBC's Songland returns at 9 p.m. Wednesday; ABC's Card Sharks 9 p.m. Wednesday and Family Food Fight 9 p.m. Thursday and CBS' Elementary 10 p.m. Thursday air their finales, the latter closing out its series run after seven seasons.
In case you missed it ...
Martial-arts drama Wu Assassins stars The Raid's Iko Uwais as a young chef in San Francisco's Chinatown who learns he's been chosen by the titular group to keep the mystical Wu powers from falling into the wrong hands. It's streaming on Netflix.
Victoria star Tom Hughes is joining the cast of Sky and AMC Networks drama A Discovery of Witches.
Hughes will star as Kit Marlowe, an English playwright, poet and translator of the Elizabethan era, for the show's second season. Hughes, who also starred in BBC Cold War drama The Game, is the first name revealed to join the cast after the British pay-broadcaster made a bumper two season order for the supernatural series.
Downton Abbey and The Good Wife star Matthew Goode stars as vampire Matthew Clairmont in the Bad Wolf-produced show, while Hacksaw Ridge's Teresa Palmer plays heroine Diana Bishop in the series.
A Discovery Of Witches is the first installment of Harkness' All Souls Trilogy, which has sold more than 3.5M copies worldwide. Originally published in 2011, Discovery is the story of Diana, a young scholar at Oxford who is a descendant of the Salem witches. When she accidentally unlocks an enchanted manuscript, she is compelled to embrace the magic in her blood and enters a forbidden romance with charming 1,500-year-old vampire Matthew. The second All Souls novel, Shadow Of Night, was published in 2012 by The Book Of Life in 2014. Kate Brooke Mr Selfridge penned the first season adaptation and was showrunner.
In the second season, Goode and Palmer return, this time hiding in time in the treacherous world of Elizabethan London, where they must find a powerful witch teacher to help Diana control her magic and search for the elusive Book of Life.
Season two will also see the return of Owen Teale Game of Thrones, Alex Kingston Doctor Who, Lindsay Duncan The Honourable Woman, Valarie Pettiford Half & Half, Edward Bluemel The Commuter, Aiysha Hart Line of Duty, Trevor Eve Waking the Dead, Malin Buska The Girl King and Gregg Chillin Being Human.
Season two will be written by Sarah Dollard Doctor Who, Being Human and Susie Conklin The Musketeers, Cranford, who will also serve as an Executive Producer alongside co-founders of Bad Wolf, Jane Tranter and Julie Gardner, and Lachlan MacKinnon along with Deborah Harkness.
Hughes said, “I’m looking forward to stepping into Deborah's fantastical world to play such a fascinating man as Kit Marlowe. With a rich history to draw from, Kit's darkness and mercurial nature will be a delight to delve in to.”
Evil deals with the complicated, non-binary nature of evil and how social media has changed its definition, creators/executive producers Robert and Michelle King said during the TCA session for the upcoming CBS psychological drama.
Evil, about a skeptical female clinical psychologist Katja Herberts who joins a priest-in-training Mike Colter as they investigate supposed miracles, demonic possessions, and other extraordinary occurrences, has had a long journey to the screen. “We've been writing it for the last year and researching it for the last thirty,” Michelle King said.
Robert King spoke about present-day villainy and how the show came about after conversations whether modern acts of terrorism are supernatural phenomenon or a result of our current social media landscape.
“I think the show is trying to avoid the binary... What we wanted to do is explore how social media has changed in terms of what is evil and how evil has moved from one person to another... We are making that a real focus, especially in this first season, how social media has basically changed the definitions”, said Robert King.
While the pilot deals with a suspected demonic possession, that won’t be the topic of every episode.
“We are trying to avoid exorcism of the week,” Robert King said. “The second episode is about miracles. It’s about those question marks in life that you don't quite know how they happen, a school where all the girls start laughing, and it seems to be almost viral. The other thing is you're looking at life, and you're seeing evils often not with a capital E but with a small e, the boss who throws things at his employees. Where does that fit in?… What our people are about is just figuring out what is genetically based villainy, if you want to use that word instead of evil, and what is something that’s even bigger, something more supernatural? But also looking at hope.”
When asked whether there would be any thematic crossover to the King's previous works which include the short-lived drama In Justice, Emmy-winning show The Good Wife and its CBS All Access spin-off The Good Fight Robert King explained that the current political climate is definitely material to explore but did not further detail any relation to their other work.
Given the scary nature of the show Michelle King quelled panel member's concerns that the show would not lend itself to goriness as the season went on.
“I don't anticipate it becoming more gory than what you saw in the pilot. That's probably tonally what we're looking at”, she said.
Robert King said the show will be slightly different from other CBS procedural dramas where the antagonists are the obvious culprit. He added the endings “will be a little more vague.”