Expecting inference from a kid bingeing on Netflix may be too much to ask, and on just about every level, “Raising Dion” refuses to let any mystery be. Take the opening sequence, which isn’t so much the first scene of the series as a preview of scenes to come later on, like one of those mini-teasers that runs right before the full trailer on YouTube or Twitter. It’s not a flash-forward — there’s no effort to connect it to the characters’ reality — it’s just a promise that if you’re bored or confused for even a second, don’t worry: There’s an explanation or explosion just around the corner.
Blunt entertainment delivery is the wave of the future, as an expanding TV landscape sees streamers fighting for your attention every waking second and even when you’re asleep, actually, but “Raising Dion’s” overt manipulation extends beyond the storytelling. The new Netflix drama is literally built to remind you of an older, extremely successful Netflix drama. Like “Stranger Things,” “Raising Dion” is a family-friendly show featuring both kid and adult characters who play in a supernatural world. While not as spooky as the Duffer Brothers’ horror homage, showrunner Carol Barbee’s modern day mother-son story uses the superhero genre to its own grand world-building and franchise-starting designs.
And it’s not bad! As annoying as it can be when a show doesn’t trust its audience to connect any of the dots on their own — and believe me, when the “Stranger Things” theme is used as a ringtone, I nearly lost my mind — “Raising Dion” is so focused on delivering a good time that it’s kind of hard to stay angry. More importantly, it takes a conventional origin story framework and reflects it through the unique lens of a black, working class family, putting just enough emphasis on the struggles of single motherhood to believe audiences may not forget everything they just watched the second Season 1 wraps.
Nicole Alisha Wainwright didn’t expect this to be her life. A former ballerina, Nicole retired from the stage to raise her son alongside her husband, Mark Michael B. Jordan — a research scientist obsessed with studying various weather patterns and related phenomena. But when Mark died, Nicole had to figure things out for herself and Dion Ja’Siah Young. She’s been bouncing from job to job ever since, trying to find a reliable paycheck and good heh care for her family.
All of that information is slowly trickled out over the course of the first few episodes. You don’t learn how Mark died until they’ve teased the mystery around his disappearance enough times, and I didn’t realize Nicole had dancing experience until maybe midway through the nine-episode first season. What Barbee alongside EPs Jordan, Kenny Goodman, Kim Roth, and Dennis Liu prioritizes is Dion and his superpowers. Within minutes of meeting the wide-eyed little boy, he spills his cereal and freezes the flying milk and colored chunks in mid-air — staring at the colorful mess-in-waiting, Dion doesn’t know how he did it. He tells his mom who didn’t see the cereal until after it hit the floor he can do magic, and the two proceed about their day as normal.
But don’t worry: Nicole quickly finds out about her son’s inexplicable abilities, traces them back to his father’s secretive corporate work, and must accept one more burden on her already overwhelmed life: raising not just a son on her own, but a super-powered son. Soon, Mark’s best friend Pat Jason Ritter is introduced to help out, and their makeshift little family starts hitting every beat you’d expect.
From a cynical standpoint, there are plenty of glaring flaws to pick at, especially if you can’t shake how it feels like “Raising Dion” so badly wants to be “Stranger Things 2.0.” Familiarity is a problem: The big company is an evil corporation; the dead dad may not be dead-dead; the son’s powers are better than everyone else’s powers. The show also treats its soundtrack like a crutch, laying heavy beats during transition points to cover for a lagging story, and the visual effects used to show off Dion’s powers are pretty spotty. Even something as simple as a skateboard being pulled under his feet looks way too fake. Perhaps more to prospective viewers’ interest, Michael B. Jordan is not a series regular. That should be obvious, since his character is dead, but he’s not the star here. The executive producer and guest star just shows up as often as can possibly be justified probably to help cut a convincing trailer or five-second pre-trailer, teaser.
Alisha Wainwright, Ja’Siah Young, and Gavin Munn in “Raising Dion”
The release timing doesn’t help give “Raising Dion” the benefit of the doubt, either. With Disney+ looming, Netflix needs more star power “Hey, Kilmonger is in this!”, franchises “This is a lot like ‘Stranger Things’…”, and family-friendly content. “I guess Disney doesn’t have every show my kids and I want to watch.” But it’s difficult to dwell in that cynicism when so many of the series’ core elements are just solid. Young’s portrayal of Dion is very childlike — while sometimes it feels like he’s turning the cuteness knob to 11, he’s curious and muted throughout most of his less intense scenes. Wainwright is sturdy as well, and Ritter really leans into his affable nature. The action scenes are effective, overall mystery well-teased, and episodic structure pretty sound.
More importantly, the creative team doesn’t ignore the particular problems facing a black single mother. When her child is threatened with expulsion, the series acknowledges racial bias from an institutional level. When she’s going on job interviews, what to do with Dion is not only a question, but acknowledging her commitment to him could cost her a position. One could even argue Dion’s powers are just a metaphor for the increased pressure on Nicole — she’s constantly concerned for her son’s well-being, no one really understands how much she’s going through, and the stress itself can impede any shot she has at improving their circumstances. When Nicole finds out Dion has super-powers, all of these issues are magnified, helping to illustrate the mother’s heroism to viewers at home.
None of this is breaking the mold in a big way, but “Raising Dion” isn’t aiming for original artistry at all costs. It wants to entertain, please, and maybe ever-so-slightly inform. Even with all the overt manipulations, this Netflix drama feels good-intentioned. Maybe it’s all a con, but it’s a cute con that you probably won’t mind falling for.
AMC has added a pair of series to its roster of originals, picking up the legal drama 61st Street and the hourlong dark comedy Kevin Can F*** Himself.
The two shows, both from in-house AMC Studios, came out of the cabler's script-to-series development model, whereby a writers room is opened and several scripts are written. If those come in well, the project bypasses filming a pilot and goes straight to series. The model has produced the current AMC series Lodge 49 and NOS4A2, as well as the since-canceled Dietland and The Son.
"At AMC we believe in shows that have startling vision and fresh voice, with something to say," Sarah Barnett, president of AMC Networks Entertainment Group and AMC Studios, said Tuesday in a statement. "These two projects couldn't be more in our sweet spot, as both have something big to say, and a genius way of saying it."
The courtroom thriller 61st Street, which has a two-season order with eight episodes per season, comes from executive producer Michael B. Jordan and creator Peter Moffat The Night Of source material Criminal Justice, Showtime's upcoming Your Honor. It centers on Moses Johnson, a promising African-American high school athlete who is swept up in Chicago's notoriously corrupt justice system. Taken by police as a gang member, he's put into the eye of a storm as police and prosecutors seek revenge for the death of an officer in a drug bust gone bad.
Moffat will serve as showrunner and executive produce with Jordan and Alana Mayo of his Outlier Society banner and BBC Studios' Hilary Salmon.
Kevin Can F*** Himself was created by Lodge 49 writer Valerie Armstrong and explores the secret life of a type of woman people think they know: the sitcom wife. It will explore what the world looks like through her eyes, alternating between single-camera realism and multicamera comedy, and imagine what happens when the sitcom wife breaks free of her confines and forces the world to let her take the lead.
Craig DiGregorio Shrill, Kevin Probably Saves the World will serve as showrunner and executive produce with Rashida Jones and Will McCormack of Le Train Train.
The two series join an AMC roster that includes the flagship series The Walking Dead and its spinoff Fear the Walking Dead, Better Call Saul, Lodge 49, NOS4A2, The Terror and McMafia, along with the upcoming Dispatches From Elsewhere and an untitled sci-fi/romance anthology from Will Bridges and Brett Goldstein.
The team behind The Politician gathered for the Netflix series' New York premiere Thursday night at the DGA Theater. It was there that Gwyneth Paltrow, her husband, Brad Falchuk — who co-created the dramedy with Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan — and more stars of the show chatted with The Hollywood Reporter on the pink carpet about the social impact they hope to have as the 2020 election draws near.
"I always think of the show as so satirical. But I think that for the younger audience, it might be interesting for them to see what the characteristics of true politicians are," Paltrow told THR of The Politician, which centers on Ben Platt's character, Payton Hobart, a determined high school senior who will stop at nothing to become student class president — the first step in his meticulously thought-out plan to one day assume control of the Oval Office.
Paltrow, an executive producer on the series who plays Georgina Hobart, Payton's mother and abiding supporter, added, "Maybe it will demystify it a little bit for them and encourage kids to become more politically involved and to get out there and vote."
Falchuk — who wrote Paltrow's character with his wife in mind — agreed, explaining that The Politician serves as an allegory for 2019's divisive political climate. "In a way, we're holding a mirror up to society," Falchuk said of the series, which explores gun control, voter suppression, political corruption, mental health and suicide, among other hot-button issues.
"Historically, younger people vote in much smaller numbers," Falchuk continued. "But now, I think young people want to be involved, to take control and not let old people dictate their lives. The hope is that this show can fuel even more motivation for kids to get out there and make their voices heard."
Benjamin Barrett — who plays Ricardo, the amusingly misguided boyfriend of Payton's potential running-mate Infinity Jackson Zoey Deutch — told THR that he believes humor is the best way to capture Gen Z when trying to ignite important conversations about politics. "It's a good way to inform them without shoving it down their throats," said the actor. "I hope it gets kids excited about 2020."
Aside from the series' political significance, castmembers spoke about the power of The Politician's inclusive approach to storytelling. Like many of Murphy's projects, The Politician — his first series to make its debut on Netflix since his $300 million mega deal with the streaming giant — features characters with a wide range of sexualities, gender identities, ethnic backgrounds and disabilities, played by actors of similar experiences. Still, not one kid at Murphy's fictional Santa Barbara-set Saint Sebastian High is completely defined by what makes them different.
Newcomer Ryan Haddad — who has cerebral palsy and portrays Andrew Cashman, who he says was pitched to him as a "sardonic high schooler with cerebral palsy" — told THR that his character's narrative feels "revolutionary" for the lack of attention it pays to his physicality.
"I think it's groundbreaking for people with disabilities. It's not something we see often. When we see disabilities onscreen, typically it's the central point of a character. And my character, he only says 'cerebral palsy' one time and it's a joke," he said. "So, the fact that I can be very significant to the plot and not have it be focused on my disability is a huge deal for me and part of the reason I wanted to do the role, for sure. It's very well written, it's very funny and it's not tokenizing."
Trans actor Theo Germaine, who plays Payton's campaign manager James, said that Murphy's decision to hire LGBTQ talent behind the scenes provided an extra level of comfort on the set of The Politician — particularly when Murphy's frequent collaborator Janet Mock came on to direct episode three. Mock, who made history in 2018 as the first trans woman of color to direct an episode of television with Pose's season one standout, "Love Is the Message," signed a historic overall deal with Netflix in June as the first openly out trans woman to enter such a pact with a major media company.
"I have only been able to work with trans directors a couple of times in my life. Everybody that I worked with on The Politician, I had a fantastic experience with. I don't want to say that anyone was better than anyone else because everybody was truly exquisite," said Germaine. "But when you get to work with somebody like Janet, who falls underneath a similar umbrella as you, it feels like there is an increased level of understanding."
He added, "Because I'm newer in the business, sometimes it's easier for me to open up to other people who share a similar experience as me. I just got to chat with Janet a little bit about some of the concerns I had — like, am I doing enough to represent my community? — and she was super supportive and just told me to play James like the cunning nerd he is."
Mock was one of many notable names who came out to support Murphy, Falchuk, Brennan and the cast of The Politician at Thursday night's screening. Pose's Indya Moore, Oscar winner Rami Malek who is dating The Politician's Lucy Boynton, his Bohemian Rhapsody co-star and Ariana DeBose, the incoming lead of Steven Spielberg's West Side Story reboot, were also in attendance.
Judith Light and Bette Midler, who appear at the tail end of season one of The Politician and are expected to play bigger parts in the second season, attended as well, along with the main cast that includes Paltrow, Platt, Barrett, Deutch, Germaine, Boynton, David Corenswet, Julia Schlaepfer, Laura Dreyfuss, Rahne Jones, Bob Balaban, January Jones, Dylan McDermott and Jessica Lange. Afterward, Murphy and his stars celebrated the launch of their show during an afterparty at The Pool in Midtown Manhattan.
The Politician is now available to stream on Netflix.
Dylan McDermott, Samara Weaving, Jim Parsons, Maude Apatow, Joe Mantello, Laura Harrier and Jake Picking have joined the cast of Ryan Murphy's upcoming Netflix limited drama series Hollywood. They join previously announced Jeremy Pope, Darren Criss, David Corenswet, Patti LuPone and Holland Taylor.
Few details are known about the series, which Murphy calls “a love letter to the Golden Age of Tinseltown.” It is believed to be set in the 1940s and centers on three lead characters — played by Pope, Criss and Corenswet.
From left: Jake Picking, Rock Hudson Shutterstock
McDermott will play Ernie; Weaving will portray Claire; Parsons will play Henry Wilson; Apatow will portray Henrietta; Mantello will play Dick; Harrier will play Camille; and Picking will play actor Rock Hudson.
Murphy co-created the series with frequent collaborator Ian Brennan. Principal photography got underway this summer, with Pope, Criss and Corenswet all exec producing in addition to starring.
Laura Harrier Credit: Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP
Hollywood is Murphy's third show for Netflix following The Politician and Ratched, and the first under his mega overall deal with the streamer.
This marks Murphy's latest collaboration with McDermott who starred in the very first installment of FX's American Horror Story and can be seen in Murphy's Netflix series The Politician, which premieres today on Netflix. He's repped by CAA and Industry Entertainment.
Weaving can be seen as the lead in Fox Searchlight's thriller Ready or Not, and she also stars opposite Daniel Radcliffe in action comedy Guns Akimbo, which recently made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Weaving recently wrapped Bill and Ted Face the Music, the threequel to the cult franchise. She's repped by Untitled, WME & Shannahan in Australia.
Parsons co-starred in Murphy's HBO movie The Normal Heart, earning an Emmy nomination. The The Big Bang Theory alum also is reprising his role from Murphy's Broadway production of The Boys In the Band in Murphy's Netflix film adaptation. Parsons, who recently teamed with fellow Big Bang star Mayim Bialik on multi-camera comedy series Carla at Fox and is producing Quibi comedy The Monarchy Is Going to S***, is repped by CAA and Principal Entertainment LA.
Two-time Tony winner Mantello recently directed Murphy's Tony winner The Boys in the Band and the subsequent film version set to be released on Netflix in 2020. Best known for his work on Broadway productions of Wicked, Take Me Out and Assassins, Hollywood marks Mantello's return to TV following roles in Dick Wolf's original Law & Order series and Murphy's The Normal Heart. He's repped by CAA.
Apatow, who plays Lexi in HBO's Euphoria, will next be seen in Universal's untitled Judd Apatow/Pete Davidson comedy feature. She's repped by UTA and Mosaic.
Harrier appeared in 2017's Spider-Man: Homecoming and recently recurred on Unforgettable. She will next be seen in features The Starling and BIOS. She's repped by ICM Partners and Soffer/Namoff Entertainment.
In January, Netflix announced that The Office co-creator Greg Daniels and star Steve Carell were working together on a new “workplace comedy” for Netflix titled Space Force. And, yes, as the teaser trailer rolled out to promote the show’s announcement confirmed, it was all inspired by President Donald Trump’s long-forgotten proposal to launch a new celestial branch of the military. As silly as this all may seem, however, Space Force is really happening, and to drive this point home back on Earth, Netflix today announced the rest of the show’s cast.
Aside from Carell, who’s playing General Mark R. Naird, the man tasked by the White House to lead the new military branch, Space Force will also feature the comedic acting talents of John Malkovich, Ben Schwartz, Diana Silvers, Tawny Newsome, Jimmy O. Yang, and Alex Sparrow. Here’s a rundown of who they’re playing:
John Malkovich plays “Dr. Adrian Mallory” — Head Science Advisor, brilliant, arrogant and hoping to prevent space from becoming the next great international battlefield.
Ben Schwartz plays “F. Tony Scarapiducci” — A self-centered media consultant whose Machiavellian goals only sometimes line up with those of Mark or Space Force.
Diana Silvers plays “Erin Naird” — Popular and an A-student in Washington DC, Mark’s daughter is an outcast in Wild Horse Colorado after transferring to a remote military base and turns to delinquency.
Tawny Newsome plays “Angela Ali” — Helicopter pilot, ambitious and competitive, with secret dreams that she keeps close to the vest.
Jimmy O. Yang plays “Doctor Chan Kaifang” — Doctor Mallory’s right-hand man, Chan is a brilliant astrophysicist and rocket engineer who immigrated from China as a teenager and loves all things American, from fly fishing to the Baltimore Orioles.
Alex Sparrow plays “Yuri ‘Bobby’ Telatovich” — A charming observer from the Russian Government, Yuri is curious about many things in Mark’s life, like his daughter, or the tech specs of the Javelin missile.
If that’s not already enough talent for you which it should be, Netflix also revealed that Paul King, the director of the beloved Paddington films, will direct two episodes of Space Force — including the pilot.
In the first scene of “The Politician,” Payton Hobart Ben Platt is in the midst of a college admissions interview at Harvard; specifically, he’s at the of a clearly rehearsed speech about his grand plan to become the next President of the United States. This clean-cut, over-prepared high school senior has studied past presidents to discern critical shared characteristics, and he’s following in their most effective footsteps to his own seat at the White House. As far as he’s concerned, Ronald Reagan created the modern presidency — “the presidency of television and celebrity.” “People like to think of their presidents as characters on TV,” Payton says. “Most actually never meet them in real life.”
But that’s as close as he comes to talking about Donald Trump, and it’s as close as “The Politician” comes to acknowledging the general state of modern politics as a lawless clusterfuck even the most seasoned theorists are baffled by — a place where a 30-year-roadmap is about as valuable as a Ford Taurus on Fury Road. “The Politician” isn’t actually interested in politics. It’s interested in scheming and melodrama, which would be fine if it wasn’t so ostensibly obsessed with using the broken system of government referred to in its title to prop up its plot. What results is a shallow character study supported by equally flimsy ties to important-sounding ideas.
Still, it’s very watchable. Mixing colorful mise-en-scéne with symmetrical framings, “The Politician” is as striking in appearance as it is saturated with action. At times, especially when Gwyneth Paltrow and Bob Balaban are on screen, it feels like you’re watching a truncated homage to Wes Anderson — missing the title cards and slo-motion ending, but complete with quick pans and a quirky, broken family drama at its center.
Payton, as he points out to the Harvard dean, comes from poverty and money. His birth mother was a “cocktail waitress” at a strip club in New Hampshire, but his adopted parents have generational wealth. Georgina Hobart Paltrow and her husband Balaban adopted Payton as a young boy and raised him as their own… only Georgina is far more fond of him, and the two have forged a strong friendship. He talks to her about art and love, while she offers a few words of motherly advice and encourages his ambitions.
Courtesy of Netflix
Not that he needs encouragement. Payton has been scheming since age seven and now faces his first test: being elected student body president at the elite Santa Barbara high school, Saint Sebastian. Per his team of advisers led by chief strategist James Theo Germaine, girlfriend and First Lady stand-in Alice Julia Schlaepfer, and general coordinator McAfee Laura Dreyfuss, everything was going fine — but then jock, scholar, and all-around popular kid River David Corenswet decided to throw his hat in the ring. The added pressure forces Payton to make a rather desperate gambit, hiring a cancer-stricken student named Infinity Zoey Deutch as his running mate and inheriting her greedy grandma along with her, played by Murphy favorite Jessica Lange.
To say more would dip into spoiler territory, but there are a few things prospective viewers should know: Yes, Platt sings — in a blatant, self-indulgent ploy to utilize the Tony-winning actor’s full talents, Murphy concocts one implausible scenario after the next to put Platt’s pipes on display. Similarly, he struggles to find things for Lange to do, so he gives her a lot to react to, at increasing levels of scenery-chewing insanity. By now, Murphy’s audience has come to expect this kind of superfluous catering to the cast, but “The Politician” barely tries to justify it within the narrative.
But I digress: What you really need to know is a This is an ongoing series, so even when it feels like things could wrap up by season’s end, expect a final episode dedicated to rebuilding a similar plot for Season 2, and b This is not a political show. It’s a teen drama using politics to drive decisions, but never caring to engage in reality. That works fine as pure entertainment — did I mention Platt’s three full-length musical numbers? — but it eliminates any edge “The Politician” may have had and cuts down on the investment you’ll have in each character.
Theo Germaine, Julia Schlaepfer, and Laura Dreyfuss in “The Politician”
Courtesy of Netflix
Ryan Murphy’s first Netflix original series — under his landmark deal with the streaming giant — is really about how teens are reacting to a post-9/11, mid-Trump, pre-apocalyptic world. Much like “Euphoria” and “13 Reasons Why” before it, “The Politician” sees teens reacting badly to the meaninglessness of adulthood and the future in general. They feel empty, and when there’s no reason to suspect things will improve, they settle for that emptiness. In the HBO drama, Rue Zendaya searches for an escape through drugs, happy to spend her life waiting for her next fix because it’s not gonna get better.
Here, Payton also doesn’t think life will get any better, so he obsesses over politics as a means of self-protection. Convinced he doesn’t feel emotions like other people do, Payton chases higher office so people don’t suspect he’s a sociopath; he can check off the boxes of a do-gooder for the rest of his days, just like high school kids check off pre-requisites and extracurriculars. In other words, he thinks he’s different, and he’s hiding in plain sight as a politician — a profession filled with soundbites and platitudes, where very few people will ask any real questions.
Unfortunately, “The Politician” exposes its own failures when those questions are posed. Just like when the Harvard dean looks at Payton and asks a personal question, one he’s not prepared for, the answers are unsatisfying. Instead of feeling like, “Ah, there’s the real Payton,” you feel like the truth is still missing despite Platt’s obvious skills for fleshing out each placeholder. Perhaps if Murphy cared to wrestle with the confusing, challenging, and often unanswerable universe real teens are trying to make sense of, his show could find the authenticity it needs. But “The Politician” has no interest in acknowledging the real-world whatsoever. Each character is just a character on TV; they never feel like someone you could actually meet in real life, and that’s good enough, I guess.
“The Politician” Season 1 premieres Friday, September 27 on Netflix.