Arts & Culture

Must-See Fall TV Shows with a Southern Twist

Three fall debuts that use Southern settings to enhance the storytelling.

Mostly gone are the days when South-set TV series play out on Los Angeles soundstages—largely due to film tax incentives in states like North Carolina, Georgia, and Louisiana. And thank goodness. After all, would True Detective’s first season have been as effective without all that Spanish moss? Now three fall debuts worth watching are following that form: Queen Sugar, Atlanta, and One Mississippi each create a sense of place with Southern settings that enhance the storytelling.


Queen Sugar

Oprah. Ava DuVernay. Those two names should convey all you need to know about the quality of this OWN original drama co-created by the media mogul and the Oscar-nominated Selma director. The first two episodes, which aired on Tuesday and Wednesday, set up the premise adapted from Natalie Baszile’s bestselling novel: A death in the Bordelon family brings three siblings together to save their father’s sugarcane farm in fictional St. Josephine parish, Louisiana. Showrunner DuVernay also wrote and directed these installments, setting the tone with well-drawn characters, original music by series composer Meshell Ndegeocello, and lush cinematography that sweeps over fallow fields and lingers on roadside seafood peddlers with equal attention.

In a recent interview with Vulture, Baszile elaborated on the inspiration for her story, which DuVernay interprets into a robust chronicle of a black family—a narrative not seen often on TV: “It was so important for me to put a book out there that said we are not all one thing, but we are human and complicated and nuanced.”

Catch up by watching the first episodes on the OWN app, and then setting your DVR for Wednesday nights at 10/9 central.

 


Atlanta 

Anyone who’s spent any time in the A will appreciate all the local nods in Donald Glover’s FX series, from a J.R. Crickets restaurant cameo to the familiar flash of heat lightning in the Georgia sky. Glover, a Stone Mountain native best known as the affable Troy Barnes on NBC’s Community, laces his multilayered comedy about black culture with melancholy moments and dreamy interludes—he jokingly has described the show as “Twin Peaks with rappers.” Glover plays Earnest “Earn” Marks, a flat-broke Princeton dropout who wants to manage the music career of his cousin, Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles (North Carolina native and Morehouse grad Brian Tyree Henry). Most of the writers grew up around Atlanta, and it pays off. Said Washington Post TV critic Hank Steuver, “Creators and producers are fond of talking up a TV show’s setting as becoming a character in and of itself, which is often just talk. In ‘Atlanta’s’ case, the setting is a vital, narrative through-line—and a welcome take on a stereotyped world.”

Donald Glover as Earnest Marks.

photo: Guy D'Alema/FX

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Donald Glover as Earnest Marks.

FX debuted the first two episodes this past Tuesday; both can be seen at fxnetworks.com. Otherwise, tune in on Tuesdays at 10/9 central.


One Mississippi

Comedian Tig Notaro turned a traumatic year into fodder for her stand-up act: During 2012, her mother died, she had breast cancer that resulted in a double mastectomy (and an intestinal infection), and broke up with her girlfriend. Now all that heartache is fueling Notaro’s dramedy for Amazon.

The pilot follows Notaro from L.A. to her mother’s deathbed in fictional Bay Saint Lucille, Mississippi (doubling here for Notaro’s hometown of Pass Christian), where she decides to stay for a while after her mother’s funeral. The Gulf acts as a palette for the pilot, including beauty shots of the beach-winding U.S. 90 (formerly damaged by Katrina). The vistas seem like a tribute from Notaro, who has admitted that it was hard for her to return after the devastating hurricane.

The cast of local characters—including John Rothman as Notaro’s step-father, Bill—promises to contrast with the comedian’s dark sense of humor. Notaro’s deadpan delivery, combined with the subject matter, makes for just as many tear-jerking moments as laugh-out-loud ones.

Amazon released the series in full on September 9 for Prime viewers, but the pilot is still available to watch for free.

 


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