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Feud and Legion spearhead FX’s impressive new lineup

Executive producers/writers/directors Ryan Murphy and Tim Minear, executive producer Dede Gardner, and actors Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon, Alison Wright, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Kiernan Shipka of Feud (Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

FX kicked off its TCA day with an executive session that featured many stats, apparently a favorite of FX CEO John Landgraf. The numbers showed that the cable network is now among TV’s most celebrated, with shows like Atlanta, The Americans, and American Crime Story topping many 2016 best-of lists. But some of these shows can’t come right back for 2017, which the execs addressed. For example, Atlanta is working around Donald Glover’s movie schedule for his upcoming Star Wars role. Landgraf pointed to a classic contractor question: “Do you want it now or do you want it good?”

The previous evening featured a special screening of the first two episodes of Feud, FX auteur Ryan Murphy’s depiction of the rivalry between screen legends Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, which came to a head during the filming of the 1962 gothic film Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? The brilliant cast features Jessica Lange as Crawford with Susan Sarandon as Davis, along with Kathy Bates depicting Joan Blondell and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Olivia De Havilland (all four are Oscar winners). Kiernan Shipka plays Davis’ daughter, Judy Davis is gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, and Alfred Molina as the duo’s put-upon director Robert Aldrich. Murphy’s mini-series perfectly depicts the colorful era of the Golden Age of Hollywood, while showcasing the uphill climbs both of these screen legends had to face as women. Lange commented that for today’s actresses, “I don’t think it’s changed that much, to tell you the truth.” Sarandon pointed out: “Well, we’re working!” The two were also asked if they had ever actually met the two legends. Lange revealed that she did meet Davis once, who cautioned her, “You’d better court the press, honey.”

The Feud panel was followed by another gangbuster series: the anticipated Legion, FX’s first foray into the world of Marvel. Fargo’s Noah Hawley has directed one of the most experimental and surreal pilots of the new season, as Dan Stevens takes about the farthest leap possible from Downton Abbey. He’s a a supposed paranoid schizophrenic, in a futuristic mental institution alongside Aubrey Plaza, who discovers he has mutant abilities. There are melded realities and astral planes, even though the cast enthused that much of this was accomplished with “practical effects.” Marvel exec Jeph Loeb stressed that Legion is the kind of superhero show that “no one’s ever seen before.”

Man Seeking Woman has taken a turn in its third season, as Jay Baruchel’s Josh’s search for a partner has ended, and is he now engaged to Katie Findlay’s Lucy. Showrunner Simon Rich revealed that the character’s progression mimicked his own, from dating in his mid-twenties to his status now as a newlywed. “We wanted to examine an adult relationship all the way through to the wedding day,” he explained. “When you finally find the right person, it’s even higher stakes.”

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Ahead of The Americans panel, FX announced that the superb drama would return for its fifth season on March 7. (That two-month period sounds short, but will undoubtedly feel like an eternity.) The TCA members were joined in person by executive producers Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields, as well as cast members Noah Emmerich and Holly Taylor. Series leads Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys were patched in via some hacked satellite from some undisclosed location (okay, they called in via Skype, from a set), and talked about the end game of the series while acknowledging that there are still at least two seasons to go. The pair was especially charming when teasing disguises they’ve yet to assume but would like to, including a clown (for Rhys) and a small boy (for Russell). They also described working together as a director and actor, which is just another one of their notable partnerships. Weisberg expressed dismay at seeing the series’ fictional Russian infiltration angle ostensibly becoming a reality, because there’s just no escaping politics, even when you’re talking about a period piece.

Noah Emmerich and Holly Taylor (Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
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On a lighter note, Baskets star and newly-minted Emmy winner Louie Anderson promoted the new season of his comedy on a separate panel, where he was joined virtually by his TV son and series lead Zach Galifianakis. Anderson credited his mother for his award-winning performance, from whom he said he stole all of Mrs. Baskets’ gestures and behaviors. It was a sweet moment, but Anderson & Co. didn’t settle into that gentle groove. Anderson joked that he’s become a real diva since his win. Later, Galifianakis discussed the potential for more guest stars, including Louis CK (his Baskets collaborator), explaining that he’s in no hurry to shoehorn them into future stories.

After the break, FX trotted out the creators and main cast of prestige drama Taboo, which stars Tom Hardy as a revenge-driven man. As familiar as that description might be, Hardy’s Peaky Blinders collaborator, Steven Knight, said the series breaks from most British dramas by viewing society through the prism of commerce instead of class. Pedigree has less standing in James Delaney’s (Hardy) world than ever before, as the industrial scion rejects his old stomping grounds when he returns, seemingly from the dead. Hardy said Delaney’s “signature” walk, which is an almost ungainly gait, is intended to distinguish him from his former peers. It’s ultimately a slow burn, though–both Hardy and Knight said the first 3 episodes have a lot of table-setting, but there’s a significant payoff at the end. But if, as Knight predicts, there’s another season, it will hopefully get off to a more rousing start.

Toward the end of the day, the new season of Fargo was previewed, in the sense that the cast—including Ewan McGregor, Carrie Coon, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead—were able to talk a bit about their characters. There was no trailer or promo available, but McGregor did talk about providing twice the Ewan that we’re normally used to. “I’m very experienced at playing with myself,” McGregor said of his twin characters while seemingly perfectly aware of how Twitter works. Though Noah Hawley was absent, his fellow producers John Cameron and Warren Littlefield talked about season three’s technology theme. They seem to agree with Black Mirror that it’s kind of ruining our lives, but it remains to be seen just how that makes up the next installment. Carrie Coon admitted that she was as skeptical as any Fargo fan when Hawley’s anthology series was first announced, but she’s since come around.

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Ewan McGregor, Carrie Coon, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead of Fargo season 3 (Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

FX ended the day with Snowfall, a new drama that focuses on the drug trade of the 1980s, from various perspectives including South Central, East Los Angeles, and the C.I.A. Show creator and Justified writer Dave Andron explained, “At the time, cocaine was a rich white man’s drug, No one saw crack coming and what that could do to people.” Series lead Damson Idris has high hopes for the series’ varying storylines: “We need to come together and not segregate each other’s issues.” The cast also includes professional wrestler Sergio Peris-Menchata, who, Andron stressed, “had the physicality we were looking for, but also the soulfulness.” The crowd wondered how attached they should get to the various characters in the crime drama, and Andron joked, “No one is safe. We’ll see who survives.”

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