With summer coming to an end next week, the fall television season is officially upon us. And there’s nowhere better for TV fans to celebrate all their favorite new and returning shows than at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills, California, where stars and creators participate in fascinating panel discussions for PaleyFest.
Last night at the Paley Center, the now-Disney-controlled streaming service Hulu spotlighted two of its current and upcoming new series– Wu Tang: An American Saga and Dollface— with panels featuring both shows’ cast and behind-the-scenes talents.
First up, the audience was shown the pilot episode of Wu Tang: An American Saga, which kicks off the story of how a group of African American youths growing up in Staten Island, New York, left the dangerous streets behind to form their own internationally acclaimed hip-hop group. Moderator Van Lathen of TMZ welcomed co-creators The RZA (The Man with the Iron Fists) and Alex Tse (Watchmen), plus cast members Ashton Sanders (Moonlight) who plays Bobby Diggs / The RZA, Johnell Young (Making Moves) as Gary Grice / GZA, and Zolee Griggs (Bride Wars) as Shurrie.
Alex Tse opened the discussion by addressing why now is the right time for the Wu-Tang story to be told. “Where we are as a country, we’re very divided. This series shows that people opposed to each other can come together and create something great.” The RZA followed up on that thought by agreeing, “We would not have been able to do it ten years ago,” adding that he still finds he has to detach himself from his personal connection to the subject matter in order to approach the writing.
Ashton Sanders commented on the challenge of playing a celebrity who is still alive, and indeed very much a part of the project. “It’s intimidating, but we worked together to create something special and beautiful. These dudes are so dynamic and so specific, you want to imitate them to the best of your ability.” He went on to describe how The RZA showed him how to use the beat machine that factored heavily into the first episode, and how the actor immediately repeated the musician’s phrases to learn his mannerisms and inflections. “I’m sure it made him feel super weird.”
The RZA talked about he and Tse’s open-door policy for other Wu-Tang members to come in and have input on the series. They also made time for a “Weekly Wu Wednesday” call to make sure everyone in the group was on the same page. Lastly, Zolee Griggs and Johnell Young emphasised why they are excited to be a part of the show. “Wu Tang is a part of black culture and American culture,” said Griggs. Young concurred, “I’ve been preparing for this since I was twelve.”
Then, after a screening of the first episode of Dollface, second moderator Jessica Radloff of Glamour welcomed out that series’ newcomer creator Jordan Weiss and executive producers Ira Ungerleider (Friends) and Brett Hedblom (Everly), alongside cast members Kat Dennings (Thor) who plays the protagonist Jules, Brenda Song (The Social Network) as best friend Madison, Shay Mitchell (Pretty Little Liars) as Stella, and Esther Povitsky (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) as Jules’ awkward co-worker Izzy.
Jordan Weiss began by telling the audience how the idea for the show came from her own life experience putting time into her girlfriends after a breakup. She wrote the pitch as a writing sample while working as an assistant on TBS’ People of Earth after college and developed the script with Margot Robbie’s company LuckyChap Entertainment. The title Dollface, however, came from a pet name used by a significant other of Kat Dennings’. “I have been a Jules,” said Dennings, when describing the premise of the series. “She loses herself in her relationship and loses her friends along the way.”
The Dollface panel went on to discuss the concept of “female friendships” as opposed to simply “friendships” and why the series is accessible to anyone. “These stories are so relatable that you can throw the gender aspect out the window,” noted Brenda Song. “We made a point to not have the first season focus on romance,” continued Ira Ungerleider. Similarly, one of Weiss’ favorite episodes deals with turning the idea of “slut-shaming” on its head and having the leads “monogamy-shame” each other for entering into long-term relationships. “I wanted to do a show that was just about the friendships. It’s a love story between friends.”
The creators carried on by elaborating on the alternate-reality mindscreen sequences that populate the show. “I’m personally a girl with an active imagination,” explained Weiss, who cited Charlie Kaufman movies and the 90s FOX dramedy Ally McBeal as inspirations. “It’s a great way to get into a character’s head.”
New episodes of Wu Tang: An American Saga become available each Wednesday through October 23 on Hulu, with the first four installments already up for streaming. Dollface is set to premiere Friday, November 15 on Hulu.