Tracy Morgan and Tiffany Haddish on ‘The Last O.G.’: It’s Not About Money or Laughs — It’s About Making History

The stars of “The Last O.G.” sat down with IndieWire to explain what matters about their new TBS pseudo-comedy (and what doesn’t).

Tracy Morgan and Tiffany Haddish met at the very first table read for “The Last O.G.”

That’s what Morgan remembered, anyway.

“That was not the first time we ever met,” Haddish said.

“It wasn’t?” Morgan said.

“No, the first time we met was at the Saddle Ranch in Hollywood,” she said.

At that, Morgan let out a loud, long “wow” — probably not remembering the exact evening, but knowing what kind of meeting Haddish was about to recount.

“By the end of the night, your shirt was off. You were dancing,” she said, as part of her response was drowned out by Morgan’s laughter and ever so slight embarrassment.

“You met that Tracy!” Morgan said. “[Back then] my publicist would call every week and go, ‘God damn it!’ Because every week, I was doing something crazy.”

Now, Morgan and Haddish are making a well-received TBS comedy, joining the network’s increasingly impressive lineup of “Search Party,” “Angie Tribeca,” “The Detour,” and more. “The Last O.G.” focuses on Morgan’s Tray Barker, an ex-convict released after 15 years in prison who’s trying to get a cooking career started in a now-gentrified Brooklyn. Haddish plays Shay, his newly married ex-girlfriend who’s now quite successful.

The Last O.G. The Last OG Tiffany Haddish

Much like their characters, a lot has changed for Morgan and Haddish since their run-in in the early 2000s. Morgan said they’ve both “grown and come into our own,” or, as Ms. Haddish put it, “Yeah, I don’t take my shirt off at parties no more, either.” But they’ve also gained more fame, Haddish especially.

Haddish has broken out in a big way. With key roles in “The Carmichael Show” and “Keanu,” the stand-up hit it big with “Girls Trip.” Now, she’s talking to Paul Thomas Anderson about starring in one of his films and putting herself out there as the people’s choice for Oscar host.

“Her star is so bright,” Morgan said. “I’m proud of the way she’s carried it.”

“I’m just trying to get money like he got money,” Haddish said with a laugh. “I’m trying to get my bank account some extra digits.”

But Morgan wouldn’t let her shrug it off. “No, it’s way beyond money,” he said. “She says that, but she knows I know. It’s about legacy. […] So she will always keep the funny first. The money will come and go, but the gift that God gave her won’t. God’s not an Indian giver.”

Morgan has had his fair share of success since the early aughts, too — his acclaimed role on “30 Rock,” hosting “SNL,” a number of feature films — but his motivation to make “The Last O.G.” great stems from his recent accident. In 2014, Morgan was in a six-vehicle collision in New Jersey that left him in a coma for two weeks and killed his friend and collaborator, James McNair.

“I had this idea in my head for this show for about eight years,” Morgan said. “So when I survived the accident, that’s when I just said, ‘Fuck it.'” […] My first O.G. was my daddy. […] But my last O.G. was Jimmy Mack. He died in the accident with me. That’s why we named the show ‘The Last O.G.'”

The Last O.G. The Last OG Tracy Morgan

Morgan said he watched “Key & Peele” episodes during his recovery (“That kept me laughing”), so he had his agent set him up with Jordan Peele, who became the co-creator and an executive producer on the series. Now, Morgan and Haddish hope their characters can help viewers.

“For me, I want people to pull away [that] Tray Barker made that mistake so you don’t have to make it,” Morgan said of his character on the show. “Hustlin’ is just a reaction. […] You can’t react to what you see on TV or in videos; you see a fly car so you decide to sell drugs in the strip mall community to get that car. That’s the misconception we grew up in. You see all this fly stuff on TV and you start doing things, selling your soul, to get it. That’s not right.”

Haddish hopes Shay will inspire people to keep going.

“What I hope people pull away [from Shay] is that no matter what you go through, you can always make your dreams come true. She wanted the best for her children. She wanted to be married. She got her a husband. She just wanted that full life, so it also includes her charity and everything. […] I want people to pull that away; that you can make your dreams come true. You just gotta put in the work.”

“Me and Tiffany are making history,” Morgan said. “We’re literally making history. Fifty years from now when they look back on this — ‘I Love Lucy.’ That’s what I want. I want history. A lot of young people out there today want hits. I want history. I want Nick at Nite.”

“There ain’t nothing like this on TV. This story hasn’t been told,” he said.

More than a decade back, this duo who met during a wild night on the Sunset Strip. Now they’re making sure no one forgets their hard work.

Wild-Card Emmy Predictions: 12 Crazy (and Early) Snubs and Surprises That Could Happen This Year

Could “Game of Thrones” get blanked? Will “Atlanta” earn even more nods? And who will be the unsuspecting actor to get a surprise call come July?

Across the country, countless Americans have been long-awaiting the ouster of an elected entity that’s overstayed its welcome. Some suspected it would be gone last year, while other, more pessimistic people have accepted its seemingly permanent place in power.

But no more. The tea leaves have been read, and a future without this fading former favorite feels inevitable. That’s right. In 2018, “Modern Family” will not be nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series at the Emmys.

OK, to be fair, comparing a four-time winner in the category (and a still solid) ABC family comedy — and a somewhat progressive one, at that — to our all-but-officially corrupt Cheeto-in-Chief is out of line. Steven Levitan, we apologize. But even you would probably admit it’s time for TV Academy voters to shine their light on lesser known series in need of a boost.

Will they? Probably not. But could they? That’s what IndieWire’s awards experts are here to predict. In the latest episode of Very Good Television Podcast, IndieWire TV Editor Liz Shannon Miller and TV Critic Ben Travers take their swings at the wild (but possible), absurd (but wanted), and far too early (no disagreement here) Emmy predictions they want to see, think might happen, and sometimes even hope do go down.

It’s a sequel to last year’s semi-successful edition (R.I.P. “The Leftovers”), and none of the picks are meant as guarantees — looking over the state of the race very early on, these are a few snubs and surprises that could happen. Below, we’ve listed just some of the picks with brief explanations, but be sure to listen to the episode in its entirety above.

1. “Game of Thrones” gets snubbed in most non-technical categories

  • Put it on the record: Liz Shannon Miller said on the podcast that “despite its long legacy of kicking ass at the Emmys, I think ‘Game of Thrones’ gets snubbed, even at the nominations phase, in nearly every non-technical category.”

2. “Barry” lands nominations for Bill Hader and Henry Winkler

  • Here are a few factors working in “Barry’s” favor: It’s an HBO comedy (in a year where “Veep” is out of the race), it’s getting stellar reviews, and it’s about acting in Hollywood (North Hollywood, really, but that’s arguably even more appealing to voters given the TV Academy is located there). Throw in Hader’s three previous acting nominations and Winkler’s legendary status in the community, and you’ve got two new contenders who could surprise people.

3. Rita Moreno gets nominated for “One Day at a Time”

  • The beloved EGOT winner doesn’t need any more awards on her mantle, but that doesn’t mean she won’t get one. Critics have come out in droves for “One Day at a Time,” and the recent renewal at Netflix shows support from a company that looks for nominations anyway it can get them. Moreno is the show’s best shot at gold, and she’s not that crazy a pick.

4. Zazie Beetz scores her first nomination

  • If it takes “Deadpool 2” to get Beetz the widespread recognition she deserves, so be it. But “Atlanta” should do even better at the Emmys overall, and Beetz (looking for an Outstanding Supporting Actress nod) could capitalize from its increased presence.

5. “Star Trek Discovery” or “Legion” overcome genre bias to land multiple nominations

  • One or the other will break through. Both are deserving. But both also need more viewers within the voting body to see their episodes and respect the craft, even if they typically don’t favor obscure sci-fi series.

6. Brandon Victor Dixon will be the only acting nominee from “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

  • The Tony-nominated Broadway performer stole the show during NBC’s latest live event, earning near-unanimous praise for his turn as Judas Iscariot. Look for him to sneak onto the ballot for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or TV Movie.

…and yes:

“Modern Family” will miss the cut for Outstanding Comedy Series. Sorry, ABC.

Don’t forget to subscribe to Very Good TV Podcast via Soundcloud or iTunes. Make sure to follow IndieWire on Twitter and Facebook for all your TV news. Plus, check out IndieWire’s other podcastsScreen Talk with Eric Kohn and Anne Thompson, the Filmmaker Toolkit Podcast with Chris O’Falt, as well as Michael Schneider’s podcast, Turn It On, which spotlights the most important TV each week.

‘Archer’ Creator on the (Possible) Death of Sterling Archer and Why Season 10 Might Not Be the End

Adam Reed tells IndieWire that “Archer” could live beyond Season 10, even though killing the main character is still on the table.

Archer” creator Adam Reed knows that on modern television, death can be disposable.

“If you think interest is flagging, that’s always a great way to make people pay attention,” Reed said in an interview with IndieWire. Even though Reed said he’s “always volunteering to kill Ray,” the character he’s voiced for nine seasons, the writer doesn’t treat his characters as a mere means to make headlines — even the small ones. In Season 5, a perpetually bulletproof recurring character named Brett Bunson took a fatal shot to the head.

“We all took that really hard at the office because Neal Holman, our art director, has always voiced Brett,” Reed said. “We all miss Brett, but we can’t bring him back unless you want to do some crazy retcon, and then it sort of lowers the stakes.”

The death of a minor character like Brett may not be a big deal to anyone but die-hard “Archer” fans, but there’s something else Reed has been exploring for years that carries broader repercussions. He’s thinking of killing his main character.

“It’s definitely crossed my mind,” Reed said. “It’s come up.”

There’s a few reasons for that: For one, Reed previously mentioned he was planning to end the series after Season 10. When asked if that’s still the plan, Reed said he “can’t definitively say” if next year’s episodes will be the last — “things are kind of up in the air” — but it’s easy to see how one ending for the show could involve a permanent ending for its lead.

Archer Dreamland Season 8 Episode 1

After all, he’s already prepped fans for the possibility. Over the two most recent seasons — “Dreamland” and “Danger Island” — Archer has been trapped in a coma. After suffering multiple shots to the chest (not unlike Brett did for years) at the end of Season 7, the former secret agent is hanging between life and death.

Though main characters die on TV often enough, rarely is it a character who could live forever — as virtually all animated favorites can — and rarer still does the lead serve as a linchpin for what could be an immortal franchise.

Set up as a spoof of James Bond, Archer has become a similar figure. The series has generated three companion books, a music album, a crossover episode with “Bob’s Burgers” (linked by the lead voice of both shows, H. Jon Benjamin, as well as network parent company 21st Century Fox), a national tour of their live show, and there’s even been talk of a feature film.

In other words, “Archer” isn’t just a show — it’s a franchise. The money generated from such characters typically demands, at the very least, they continue living. Usually, it asks them to maintain the status quo that made them so beloved in the first place, but neither is the case for “Archer.” The most recent seasons of “Archer” have shattered expectations in such a way that Reed’s a bit surprised he got to make them.

“It’s just amazing to me that when we first floated this idea to FX, they were like, ‘Yeah, sure. Great.’ And that was the end of the discussion,” Reed said. “It was like, ‘We’re going to totally blow apart what’s been a pretty successful formula…’ ‘Yeah, that’s fine. Go do that.'”

ARCHER -- "Waxing Gibbous" -- Season 8, Episode 6 (Airs May 10, 10:00 pm e/p) Pictured: Sterling Archer (voice of H. Jon Benjamin). CR: FXX

The result: two standalone seasons spent in Archer’s dreams. Season 8 and the upcoming ninth season take place in Archer’s subconscious, as the “real” Archer lays in a hospital bed. Last year, Reed took us to “Dreamland,” a period noir set in Los Angeles during 1947 and revolving around Archer, now a private investigator, looking into the death of his partner.

In the dream, Woodhouse was his partner, but in previous seasons he was Archer’s butler. “Dreamland” was dedicated to George Coe, who voiced the character for five seasons and died in 2015, giving the episodes an even more serious resonance outside the vengeful central story.

This loss, along with personal hardships, pushed Reed into a different mindset.

“‘Dreamland’ was pretty dark because I’d had this major reconstructive shoulder surgery, so I basically typed that season with one hand while watching the clock to see when I could have another painkiller,” Reed said. “That season is quite dark because I was in a super dark place mentally and physically.”

Reed said “Danger Island” is a “reaction to that” — a “chaser or palette cleanser from ‘Dreamland’s’ Darkness.”

“I mean, we killed dogs. That’s messed up,” Reed said. “Let’s just go have fun in the jungle with a parrot.”

Brighter in look and feel, Season 9 is a respite from the gloomy streets of L.A. as Archer finds himself in an island paradise — well, it would be if it weren’t for all the dragons and quicksand. Employed as a pilot and living at his mother’s remote hotel in the South Pacific, Reed said the new season is an adventure inspired by “Indiana Jones” and “Tales of the Golden Monkey.”

ARCHER -- "Season 9, Episode 1 -- Pictured (l-r): Pam Poovey (voice of Amber Nash), Crackers (voice of Lucky Yates). CR: FXX

“I really wanted to do a buddy picture,” Reed said, nodding to Archer’s co-pilot Pam Poovey (voiced by Amber Nash). “Pam just kind of felt like a natural, and we made her […] bigger and stronger than before. That was really fun — to have her be this towering, almost like a Chewbacca sidekick.”

“It’s strange to look back to the pilot when she was just a blabby HR lady and Archer was beating her with a puppet,” Reed said. “She really has evolved in ways that are surprising even to me.”

The show overall has grown in surprising ways, too. Though Reed said he doesn’t plan to kill Archer “anytime soon,” that’s in part because of the series’ independent ventures into the character’s comatose mind.

“I really like doing it as a writer,” he said. “I think it staves off burnout because there’s a new set of rules or internal logic that you need to follow with each new setting. You can write hardboiled film noir dialogue [like] last season, and then try to match 1930s screwball comedy dialogue this season.”

Reinventing Archer and the gang via standalone stories has invigorated Reed; so much so, he’s not as eager to say goodbye. In 2016, FX Networks gave “Archer” a three-season pickup, carrying the show through a tenth season. Soon after, Reed said he was planning to end the series with Season 10. Now, he’s not so sure.

“I don’t know right at this moment,” Reed said. “We’ve really been enjoying these different worlds. So I can’t definitively say right now whether Season 10 will be the last time we ever see Archer grace the screen. Things are kind of up in the air.”

There’s a lot of options for “Archer” moving forward. Reed even said they “could do all the Bible stories. […] Like Archer as King Herod — that’s a great story that needs to be told.” But he promises fans won’t be left high-and-dry about the character’s “real” fate.

“We are going to check back in with Archer’s real life at some point,” Reed said. “People are going to get some closure, I guess, about what’s going on in the real world of ‘Archer’ — [real] sounds weird to say. ‘Archer Prime,’ I guess?”

For one season, at least, that closure can be set aside. “Danger Island” isn’t going to be what kills Archer. In fact, it might prove to be what saved him.

“Archer: Danger Island” premieres Wednesday, April 25 at 10 p.m. ET on FXX.

‘Genius: Picasso’ Review: Antonio Banderas Spices Up a Painfully Banal Portrait of the Great Abstract Artist

Too many women reduced to muses and a routine rags-to-riches backstory make “Genius: Picasso” feel antithetical to both words in its title.

Genius: Picasso” is a telling title in how it orders those two words. Though last year’s debut season of the National Geographic anthology series didn’t feel the need to incorporate “Einstein” into its name, the second season makes sure the brand takes priority over the subject — and the creative elements follow suit.

Season 2 is a painful bore. Using the same formula devised for an entirely different character, “Genius: Picasso” short-shrifts the few compelling angles it touches upon in favor of covering a wide swath of the painter’s life. Again, there are two stories running in parallel to each other: One is of Picasso in his early twenties, with Alex Ross depicting a passionate artist finding his vision. The other, largely framed around the Nazi occupation of Paris, follows an older Picasso played by Antonio Banderas.

Each timeline has its strong points (Ross and Banderas both among them), but there’s not enough to save “Picasso” from suffering a fate the real man would hate most of all: It’s conventional, and borderline-ugly.

Given the chosen subject, the choice to fit in is doubly misguided. During the first four episodes, Picasso goes on and on about making his own art instead of copying others. When he’s starting out, the young artist makes a decent living replicating the styles of his famous would-be peers. He’s naturalistic, painting portraits and landscapes so paying customers have something simple and nice to hang above their dinner tables.

Barcelona, Spain - Alex Rich plays Pablo Picasso in Season 2 of National Geographic’s Genius (National Geographic/Dusan Martincek)

But he begs to be cut free. He wants people to respect his unique styles and passions, not the ones he cribbed from other people. And yet as he rails against convention and playing it safe, the series exists in exactly those spaces. Aside from its time-jumping story structure between younger and older Picassos — which the brand is based on — there’s nothing particularly striking about it. Even that feels like a convenient recycling of last season’s Einstein structure (as well as plenty of other biopics) more than a necessary means to capture this man’s essence, complexity, and life’s work.

“Genius: Picasso” tries to include too much of the artist’s story and pays the price for it. Early scenes move at a preposterously rapid pace, shooting through adolescent building blocks like his father teaching him to paint, the death of his younger sister, the loss of his virginity, and up to his schooling in less than 20 minutes. They’re only included so Picasso can reference them when he’s older, but they’re only rushed past so the audience doesn’t have to juggle more than two men playing Pablo. And the women in Picasso’s life are only there to help define him; none of his muses are given much backstory outside of their obsession with him or rejection by him. (This could be a way to avoid the more problematic aspects of the artist’s past, though they technically still could come up later in the season.)

Including so much in such a short amount of time is a way of catering to a wide audience — if you don’t like this story, don’t worry, there’s another right around the corner. That’s fine in theory, but it’s something Picasso himself didn’t want to do. Yes, he desired to be seen, but his choices purposefully bucked the status quo. “Genius: Picasso” seems to favor the former, and it will snag viewers for National Geographic. Many will come simply for Banderas, and they won’t be disappointed. Though not as transformative as Geoffrey Rush’s Einstein, the Spanish actor brings his trademark conviction and charm to the older Picasso, but he’s also contemplative. (Picasso is undoubtedly pretentious, but Banderas’ portrayal is anything but.)

Budapest, Hungary - Antonio Banderas (Pablo Picasso) with Samantha Colley (Dora Maar) in Season 2 of National Geographic’s Genius (National Geographic/Dusan Martincek)

There’s a pair of scenes in the premiere about Picasso’s art being taken from him: once by accident when he’d made nothing of value and then again when he’s an established icon and the Nazis threaten to destroy his art. In younger Picasso’s timeline, the scene falls apart. As rain starts to pour, Picasso and his friend scramble to protect his paintings that were left outside to dry, but the show underlines their panic with a ludicrous grandiosity for how silly it seems at the time. Even a brief cut to that footage in the present, while older Picasso recalls his past, risks ruining Banderas’ moment.

He doesn’t let it. “I’ve had my work destroyed before,” he says. “I won’t let it happen again.” The fact that he’s talking about Nazis burning down decades of important pieces should work against Banderas’ sincerity, since the comparison between an accidental loss due to weather and the deliberate destruction by fascists should never be made. But it’s his simple belief in his own art, sold by Banderas’ relaxed yet earnest delivery, that keeps the later timeline from suffering the same fate as the earlier one.

Ross is not to blame for any faults either. If anything, he’s given more to handle as the emotional younger Picasso, and he does so with gusto that never feels falsely inflated. The words may not ring false, but the performance stays grounded. Still, in the end, “Genius: Picasso” remains a minor effort all around. It moves so quickly and summarizes so much, it’s hard to trust anything but the most basic aspects of the story. Even the art is relegated to the background, as the series highlights only one painting in the first four hours. What is on display feels far removed from Picasso’s genius, even if it’s right in line with the “Genius” brand.

Grade: C-

“Genius: Picasso” premiered Friday, April 20 at the Tribeca Film Festival. Its National Geographic debut is set for Tuesday, April 24 at 9 p.m. ET.

‘Archer: Danger Island’ Review: Season 9 Brilliantly Embraces ‘Indiana Jones’ for One Helluva Fun Adventure

Adam Reed sends his spies to the jungle in an exceptional throwback to ’30s movie serials with the best TV animation… ever?

After eight seasons, to credit “Archer” for being funny, clever, or visually stimulating is like calling the latest James Bond film sexy and action-packed — it’s redundant enough to be unnecessary. Of course those elements remain a part of the franchise that, season to season, has never once eased up on amplifying its core values.

Yet given the FXX comedy’s new anthological format — last season told a standalone story in the L.A. noir “Dreamland,” and Season 9 takes place in the WWII-era tropical locale of “Danger Island” — how the series maintains its unique tat-a-tat dialogue and rambunctious action scenes needs to be acknowledged.

Season 8 was rooted in tragedy. On screen, Archer (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin) sought vengeance for the death of his partner, Woodhouse, formerly played by the late George Coe. Dedicating the season to his memory gave the beautifully realized episodes a darker tint and tone than the series had yet broached. It was still “Archer,” but more serious than before, and the original wit didn’t always vibe with the new digs.

“Danger Island” is the opposite. Drenched in sunlight and popping with color, Season 9 is bright in appearance with an attitude to match. Invigorated by the rich setting of a remote 1939 island and its inherent perils, such as quicksand, cannibals, and even dragons (or “extremely big lizards”), “Archer” transforms itself yet again, and it’s off to its best start in years.

ARCHER -- "Season 9, Episode 1 -- Pictured (l-r): Pam Poovey (voice of Amber Nash), Crackers (voice of Lucky Yates). CR: FXX

Without spoiling any of the joy in discovering what creator Adam Reed and his cohorts have cooked up, “Archer” Season 9 is a lot like “Indiana Jones” as an ensemble comedy, or “Romancing the Stone” without so much emphasis on the romance. Given the producers’ love of the obscure, there are a number of less populist inspirations as well (like “Tales of the Gold Monkey”), and the general vibe is a clear homage to ’30s and ’40s adventure stories.

Though there’s a quick (and cute) reference to the O.G. Archer’s actual state (he remains in a coma, hanging somewhere between life and death), “Danger Island” wastes no time setting up how, exactly, this story takes place — that it’s another dream is presumed, but not explicitly stated. Archer is living on an island in the South Pacific and “working” (when he feels like it) as a pilot. He’s as hard-drinking as ever and remains a Lothario (despite the small population), but the handsome raconteur is down one eye and up one talking parrot macaw. Lucky Yates, who typically voices Dr. Krieger, is now behind a scarlet bird named Crackers who does far more than repeat what others say. (Crackers’ dance moves will soon become the stuff of legend.)

Joining the man and his verbose pet is Pam Poovey (Amber Nash), Archer’s co-pilot and partner in crime who’s a bit taller, stronger (if you can imagine), and more loyal than her previous iterations, but still the same lovable ally you’ve come to love. After a quick fight with hotel guest Charlotte Vandertunt (Judy Greer) and  hotel owner Mallory Archer (Jessica Walter), the two are hired to fly Princess Lanaluakalani (or Lana for short, voiced by Aisha Tyler) and her “business” acquaintance Siegbert Fuchs (formerly Cyril and still played by Chris Parnell) on an obviously fake mission on the other side of the island.

ARCHER -- "Season 9, Episode 1 -- Pictured (l-r): Reynaud (voice of Adam Reed), Malory Archer (voice of Jessica Walter), Pam Poovey (voice of Amber Nash), Sterling Archer (voice of H. Jon Benjamin). CR: FXX

From there, per usual, chaos ensues, as the ensemble finds fresh conflict and camaraderie in their new environs. And boy is it fresh. Small moments stand out, like Archer explaining why Crackers can talk or Pam’s flashback to a misguided plan to open a… unique taco stand to make money. They’re particularly charged with energy, and the comedy comes off as effortless fun in a way that much of “Dreamland” did not.

But even more striking than the enlivened ambiance is the animation itself. Year after year, there are new efforts to admire, but “Danger Island’s” lush concept allows for its overall design to be consistently stunning — a major credit to the team of animators, directors, and designers, who seem as energized by the story as the writers. From capturing the hazy atmosphere of a humid tropical locale to instilling aerial sequences with depth and movement, the whole season is a treat for the eyes. (And did I mention the dancing macaw?)

“Archer” remains the same terrific spoof it’s always been, even as it shifts from a spy satire to a jokey, adventure homage. To say viewers who didn’t take to the first three or four seasons would fall for “Danger Island” would be a stretch, but those who’ve always liked the core cast and quick wits should find the new season to be a treat, through and through. After a year in the shadows, “Archer’s” not going back to basics, but it’s ready to have one helluva good time in Season 9.

Grade: A-

Archer: Danger Island” premieres Wednesday, April 25 at 10 p.m. ET on FXX.

‘The Americans’ Review: ‘Mr. and Mrs. Teacup’ Mixes Joy and Pain with Distinct Potency, as an Old Friend Returns

Episode 4 served as a reality check for a few fan favorites, and it sure doesn’t look like everyone will be friends to the end.

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “The Americans” Season 6, Episode 4, “Mr. and Mrs. Teacup.”]

Who thought a montage involving Paige making out and Philip line dancing could be so heartbreaking?

Thus is the power of “The Americans,” as showrunners Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg almost simultaneously doled out pleasure and pain in a bone-chilling fourth episode. Philip (Matthew Rhys) clung to his simple pleasures while he could, retreating to his favorite country bar to kick off his boots with coworkers before snacking on potato chips over a pile of mounting bills. Paige’s (Holly Taylor) date turned from a fun night out to a professional conflict as she stared at her sleeping beau’s valuable ID badge. And then there’s Elizabeth (Keri Russell): so close to getting what she needs, only to be left with nothing yet again.

She’s tired, and we’re scared. Much like joy and sorrow are contradictory emotions, each Jennings family member is living contradictory lives. Philip loves the very thing that’s crushing him, both at work (his expanded business) and at home (the wife he’s been asked to spy on). Paige wants to treat her training like an education, making her spy school into an extension of college life, but she cannot blend the two (like she wanted to at the end of her date) if she hopes to survive either. Elizabeth is overtaxed at work, and it’s affecting her personal judgement. Philip had to call her out for putting Paige’s life in danger, and even when she realized she’d done just that, Elizabeth barely reacted.

With six episodes left before the series says dosvedanya, IndieWire is taking a look at where things stand at the present moment, but also honoring the little things done consistently well throughout the series — the bits we’ll miss most when it’s all said and done. Some of it will be hard (like, Philip telling Henry he can’t afford to pay for private school anymore). Some of it will be much harder (like Philip giving up his line dancing outings after he fires his staff). So without further ado, let’s get brutal.

THE AMERICANS -- "Tchaikovsky" -- Season 6, Episode 2 (Airs Wednesday, April 4, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: Noah Emmerich as Stan Beeman. CR: Patrick Harbron/FX

So, Who’s Going to Die?

Normally, when someone poses the question, “Which parent would when in a fight?”, before answering you’d consider who was taller or stronger, who had a longer reach or who was in better shape. That’s because usually a) it’s a purely hypothetical question, b) you don’t have to factor in combat training, and c) it’s not a dad fighting a mom. But it’s becoming more and more apparent that Elizabeth is going to throw down with Stan (Noah Emmerich), so we better start placing bets.

In Episode 4, Elizabeth and Claudia (Margo Martindale) targeted Gennadi Bystov (Yuri Kolokolnikov), the hockey player and Russian courier who defected to the United States last week. He hasn’t been getting along with his fiance, Sofia (Darya Ekamasova), who also defected, and the couple wants Stan to return as their FBI handler, perhaps to again advise Gennadi on how to best serve his perturbed bride-to-be. That means Stan will be checking in on the couple regularly, and if Elizabeth’s plan to tail him works out, he could lead the Russians to the man they suspect has betrayed them.

That connects Elizabeth and Stan a little too much for our comfort. Given its the final season, as well as Elizabeth’s exhausted state, it’s easy to see how these two could come into conflict (or, worse yet, Paige could see Stan on the job). So, who ya takin’? Stan, the FBI agent with a new wife and diligent attitude to the office, or Elizabeth, the killer KGB spy who’s never met a man who could take her down? No matter what, we’re not going to like the answer, but it’s time we accept the inevitable conflict.

THE AMERICANS -- "Mr. and Mrs. Teacup" -- Season 6, Episode 4 (Airs Wednesday, April 18, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: Julia Garner as Kimmy. CR: Eric Liebowitz/FX

Cast Spotlight

Well, look who’s back! It’s everyone favorite wannabe cradle robbee, the formerly underage Kimmy (Julia Garner). Now a college student in Michigan, her relationship with “Jim Baxter” (a.k.a. Philip in disguise) is less disgusting than it was, even if our skin still crawled when she asked if he was seeing anybody.

Garner has gone onto big things since her extended arc in Season 4. In recent years, she’s been on “Girls” and “The Get Down,” but 2017 saw her break out even more thanks to a charming turn in Netflix’s “Ozark.” She’s got some Emmy buzz going for the Jason Bateman drama, as well as her performance in the Paramount Network limited series “Waco,” which hit earlier this year.

Seeing her in Episode 4 (which, given Kimmy’s upcoming trip, could be her last appearance on the show) is a nice reminder of how many talented actors have boosted and been boosted by “The Americans.” There’s Garner, Alison Wright (who’s now in “Sneaky Pete” and the upcoming “Snowpiercer” series), Annet Mahendru (“Nina” snagged a guest spot on “Tyrant” and voices a character in Netflix’s “Neo Yokio”), Vera Cherny (who was in the drama series “Startup”), Wrenn Schmidt (“The Looming Tower”), Katja Herbers (“Westworld”), and so many more.

There’s no need to strain for a cameo parade in the final season, but this scene was an effective, effortless way to bring Kimmy back in the fold. And as an added bonus, it helped us to remember the many other impeccable supporting performances that got us here.

THE AMERICANS -- "Mr. and Mrs. Teacup" -- Season 6, Episode 4 (Airs Wednesday, April 18, 10:00 pm/ep) -- Pictured: Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings. CR: Eric Liebowitz/FX

Creative Spotlight

“The Americans” has always found extraordinary ways to examine ordinary relationship dynamics — or, more specifically, American archetypes. It’s in the title, after all, but Fields, Weisberg, and the writing team consistently find ways to infuse their spy story with positions every Mr. and Mrs. Joe Smith assume in their daily lives. Often they’re tied to the time period, but they still hold parallels to today.

Let’s look at the Jennings from a macro perspective, sans interference from their roles as Russian spies. Philip is the businessman. He’s running point at the office and handling the finances at home. He’s struggling and feeling the pressures of providing for his family. Meanwhile, Elizabeth is doing her own thing. She’s working, too, but it’s a different kind of work, and it’s not covering the costs of Henry’s boarding school. In fact, they’ve even officially divvied up child-rearing responsibilities by gender: Philip is in charge of their son, and Elizabeth is handling their daughter.

Viewing the family from this perspective puts an odd twist on evaluating their status. After all, if that’s all there was, we wouldn’t be talking about who’s going to die every week. This viewpoint is much closer to how the Jennings see themselves: They’re aware of the life-or-death risks, but they can’t think about them constantly or even expect them to happen. They don’t know an end is coming (meaning a climactic encounter, be it between each other or with the American government) or that the end is coming (meaning the end of the series). They’re merely trying to get by, as a family.

But there’s a different between getting by and truly living. For a brief moment there, Philip and Elizabeth were happy. The job was taxing, but they loved each other, and they loved their family, and they were committed to doing the work. That dynamic feels like a long time ago, and it was, whether you measure in diegetic years or TV seasons.

Odds are there will be a way to see the ending in similar terms: the destruction of a family or the preservation of one; the progress of life or its finite nature; the American dream achieved or destroyed. Fields and Weisberg likely won’t fit it neatly into one box or the other — that’s never been their style — but they’ve always found a way to make this outrageous spy story resonate on a deeply personal level. It’s something everyone can appreciate, even if they’re not Americans.

Grade: A-

“The Americans” airs new episodes Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FX. There are six episodes left in the final season. 

‘The Looming Tower’ Producers on Creating a 9/11 ‘Origin Story’ for Americans Who Demand Answers

“The Looming Tower” creators knew a TV series about 9/11 would be a hard sell, but they also knew why people needed it.

One of the main reasons Lawrence Wright wanted to turn his Pulitzer Prize-winning non-fiction book into a TV series was he thought people were losing touch with what happened — and why it happened.

“What had become apparent to me is that enough time has passed, [and] a new generation has grown up, and they don’t understand what 9/11 was,” Wright said in an interview with IndieWire. “For them, it was like World War II was for me: It was something that happened in my parent’s generation that really changed the world, and they speak of it in hushed tones. But what was the world like before then?”

So when Wright set out to turn “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11” into a limited series, he didn’t think of it as another 9/11 story. He and his chosen collaborator — Alex Gibney, who worked with Wright on the HBO documentary “Going Clear” — thought of it as a story people didn’t already know.

“It’s a really important story,” Gibney said. “If we want to understand where we’re at and why we’re at this place now, this is the origin story.”

Up until the finale, aptly titled “9/11,” Gibney and Wright did exactly that. Along with showrunner and fellow executive producer Dan Futterman (“Foxcatcher”), the trio crafted a detailed character study moving between two bickering governmental factions — the FBI and CIA — and their imperfect individual leaders. Both counter-terrorism groups were trying to prevent an attack on America, but their tactics differed as much as the men employing them. Incessant infighting paved a road to the horrific events on September 11, 2001, but the show focused on the people, their duties, and the conflicts that came with both, not the day of the attacks.

And yet, the towers loomed. Even if those words weren’t part of the title, there was no escaping where John O’Neill (Jeff Daniels), Ali Soufan (Tahar Rahim), and the rest of the characters were headed. With regular chatter about al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, not to mention traumatic depictions of preliminary terror attacks, “The Looming Tower” could never avoid its endpoint. So instead, the series tried to engage with it differently.

Why? Because it had to.

THE LOOMING TOWER -- "9/11" - Episode 110 - September 11, 2001 and no one can get a hold of O’Neill. Soufan’s evacuation from Yemen stops short as the CIA Station Chief gives him all the answers he has been asking from the CIA for months. Schmidt is reinstated into Alec Station. Soufan finally interrogates Abu Jandal. Robert Chesney (Bill Camp), shown. (Photo by: Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu)

A Brief History of 9/11 in Film and Television (and the Few People Who Saw Them)

It’s not that previous 9/11-focused stories were bad. In fact, some were among the most hailed achievements of their respective years. “United 93” earned two Oscar nominations, including a Best Director nod for Paul Greengrass. The 2006 film also snagged a WGA nomination for Best Original Screenplay and landed a number of citations from enthusiastic critics.

“Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” nabbed two Oscar nominations itself, including Best Picture, while Oliver Stone’s 2006 drama, “World Trade Center,” is the director’s highest rated film since 1996 (per Metacritic), and he’s yet to top it. Similarly, the 2007 drama “Reign Over Me,” in which Adam Sandler played a man who lost his family on 9/11, was the actor’s best reviewed film for more than a decade. (“The Meyorwitz Stories: New and Selected” topped it just last year.)

All of these films focus, in one way or another, on the day itself, and all of them struggled at the box office. “World Trade Center” leads the pack with just over $70 million domestically — a respectable sum, but not for a studio-backed feature with a wider reach than some of the lower-budgeted fare, which didn’t perform any better: “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” offered Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock to go along with that Best Picture nomination, but it only squeaked out $31 million domestically. “United 93” made the same, and not even Adam Sandler in his prime could boost “Reign Over Me” above $20 million. (For context, his previous film, “Click,” made $137 million and his next film, “I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry,” made $120 million.) All of these films earned a wide release, as well.

Television hasn’t fared much better. Select series (like “The West Wing”) tackled the day in specific episodes, but few series have put 9/11 front-and-center. The 2004 FX drama “Rescue Me” parallels “Reign Over Me” in a lot of ways — a central figure played by a comedian who’s been traumatized by losing family members on 9/11 — and it’s easy to argue the show was an outright hit. But it also distanced itself from its heavy historical connections quickly, be it through narrative or tone. (Leary, after all, is always the wiseacre.) Other series have been successful as reactions to 9/11; “Homeland” and “24,” like the nearly $100 million-banking film “Zero Dark Thirty,” were action-thrillers told from a post-9/11 mentality, not examinations of the day itself. Audiences may be more ready to again with American officials taking down terrorists than watching terrorists execute the deadliest domestic attack since Pearl Harbor.

THE LOOMING TOWER -- "Tuesday" - Episode 109 - The CIA becomes aware that Hazmi and Mihdhar are gone and must relay that to the FBI. O’Neill accepts a job as head of security at the World Trade Center. Soufan is sent back to Yemen. Hazmi, Mihdhar and Atta head to Vegas for a final indulgence. Heather (Ella Rae Peck) and Ali Soufan (Tahar Rahim), shown. (Photo by: JoJo Whilden/Hulu)

What Makes “The Looming Tower” Different

Wright was aware of the national reticence toward 9/11 stories all along.

“I faced the same thing when I was writing the book,” he said. “I signed the contract in February 2002 and was supposed to turn in it February 2003. I scratched that out and wrote in April and turned it in five years later. In the interim, 100 books came out, and — I didn’t have any expectations — [but] it was demoralizing to see how many books came out that didn’t have that much of a reception.”

When Wright and Gibney cooked up a strategy for the series, they felt their approach would separate “The Looming Tower” from other 9/11 stories.

“I think a lot of the 9/11 stuff that had been done had focused very much on the event itself,” Gibney said. “[By] going back in time to 1998, we came up with a central motor for the narrative, which was this conflict between the FBI and the CIA, both motivated to try and protect America but really at loggerheads in terms of what their roles were. The tragedy of that drama, set against real-life events, would maybe engage people in a way that some of the other 9/11 stuff wouldn’t.”