Arts & Culture

Underground Rises

Why you should be watching this Southern-shot TV drama about the Underground Railroad

photo: Courtesy of WGN

Depicting the antebellum South on film or TV can be fraught territory, but WGN America’s Underground won over both viewers and critics when the compelling scripted series debuted last year. The program, which centers on “the Macon 7,” a group of enslaved men and women seeking to escape a Georgia plantation through the Underground Railroad, drew record ratings.

 

Creators Misha Green and Joe Pokaski both have experience with drama (Heroes, Sons of Anarchy), and it shows in the way they’ve embraced Underground‘s historical framework as “our nation’s ultimate action-adventure tale—the Greatest Escape—with no ambiguity whatsoever about whom to root for,” as the Washington Post TV critic Hank Stuever wrote in his review of the series. Dynamite performances buoy that action, including by North Carolina native Aldis Hodge, who plays Noah, the leader of the Macon 7; Amirah Vann (whose family is from Georgia), as head house servant Ernestine; Jurnee Smollett-Bell, who portrays her daughter, Rosalee; and veteran actor Christopher Meloni as bounty hunter August Pullman.

photo: Courtesy of WGN

Co–executive producer John Legend as Frederick Douglass.

Even though the events of Underground take place in 1857, modern music from the likes of Kanye West and X Ambassadors punctuate scenes—no surprise considering the show is co–executive produced by the Grammy-winning John Legend, whose production company also oversees the tunes. In fact, Legend will cameo this season as famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass. No spoilers here on where season one left off (you can catch up via Hulu), but season two—filmed in and around Savannah, and returning at 10:00 p.m. eastern on March 8—will introduce another pivotal person on the Underground Railroad: Harriet Tubman.


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