Anthology TV Series Undergo Renaissance With 'American Crime,' 'Feud'
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
The third season of "American Crime" premieres this Sunday on ABC.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "AMERICAN CRIME")
UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) When they were running crack in the city, they didn't have any Narcan. They let the Mexicans die. They let the blacks die. Everyone coming to the suburbs, and all of a sudden, they got magic powder.
CORNISH: Now, we wouldn't normally talk about the third season of a TV series, but "American Crime" is an anthology show. Each season is an entirely new story. It's also one of a number of anthologies on TV these days. Joining me now to talk about this is NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans. Hey, there, Eric.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hey.
CORNISH: And our pop culture critic Linda Holmes. Welcome back to the studio, Linda.
LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.
CORNISH: OK. So let's start with "American Crime" because I know this is a favorite of yours, Eric. Help us understand what it's doing right when it comes to the anthology approach.
DEGGANS: Well, what's interesting to me about "American Crime" is that this year we're getting something different from them where they really take you into the world of migrant workers, vegetable pickers, sex traffickers - people who are sort of at the margins of society. And you really sort of get to see life through their eyes.
And this would be hard to sustain, I think, you know, season over season because network TV is often aspirational. We see people living these middle-class lives that may even be beyond what, you know, the salary they may earn and whatever job they're supposed to have. So TV showing us people at the margins of society and really making us identify with them - you know, you can do it for a season, but to try to do it for three or four it would be really hard, I think.
CORNISH: Now, you guys pointed out to me that, like, this goes back to the '50s actually. "The Twilight Zone" was an anthology show, but we're not making it up that it's going through a bit of a renaissance, right, Linda?
HOLMES: No, absolutely not. Shows like "The Twilight Zone" and, actually, also "Black Mirror" are more like anthology by episode, and these are more anthology by season. So shows like "Fargo" and "American Crime" are an entire season of one story. And then they stop, and they tell another story, which, although it might be tangentially connected, is basically a new story with sometimes a new cast and sometimes, like, a half-new cast.
CORNISH: Right. There's "American Horror Story" - Ryan Murphy.
CORNISH: And also he has a new and called "Feud"...
CORNISH: ...Which tackles...
CORNISH: ...Great feuds in history, I guess, at least starting with the first one.
HOLMES: right. The first one is Bette Davis and Joan Crawford when they were filming "Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?" They've already announced that the next one will be Charles and Diana, so it's a...
CORNISH: Eh (ph).
CORNISH: Eh (laughter).
HOLMES: ...It is a switch of...
DEGGANS: Very much so.
HOLMES: But they're connected by that thematic idea of feuds.
CORNISH: One thing about this is it's made me wish certain shows were anthologies - where (laughter) I'm sitting there watching and thinking that was a great one season...
CORNISH: ...That had a beginning, middle and end. And I'm really not down for you all to drag this out until you get to six seasons...
CORNISH: ...And qualify for syndication. Like, I kind of want more people to embrace this.
HOLMES: Yeah. I think one of the difficulties of American dramatic television is - particularly serialized television - is that there's an idea that if it's successful, it should go on indefinitely. And that's not typically the way that you would write a story. Typically, when you conceive of a novel or any other kind of story, you would have an idea of its shape. And the indefinite length of a serialized piece of television can make shaping it very difficult. So when you have an anthology, you know what the shape is going to be, even though you don't know how successful it's going to be.
DEGGANS: Yeah. And what's interesting to me - like, I interviewed "Feud" creator Ryan Murphy. And he talked about "Glee," arguably his most - one of his most successful shows, and how he felt like he'd kind of run out of what he wanted to say artistically with those characters. But the show went on for two more seasons because it was, you know, a hit for Fox.
And so at least in the anthology format that he's working in with "American Horror Story" and "American Crime Story" and now "Feud," he has a chance to sort of reinvent the stories that he's telling the cast, the characters every season, but still work with these actors that he has a shorthand with. So you see him reusing Jessica Lange in really interesting ways. And her Joan Crawford in "Feud" I think really well done. And same thing with Sarah Paulson and seeing her in "American Horror Story" and also playing Marcia Clark in "American Crime Story" - you know, he's constantly using her in new and interesting and different ways. And as fans, we get to see them in different settings.
CORNISH: All right. Well, anthologies - they get the thumbs up from our critics here, thumbs up from audiences. And there's lots to choose from. So if you want to talk to us more, you can reach out to us on Twitter. Eric Deggans, where can people find
DEGGANS: At @Deggans - D-E-G-G-A-N-S.
CORNISH: And, Linda Holmes, where can they find you?
HOLMES: Well, named after my blog, which is called Monkey See - you can find me at @NPRMonkeySee.
CORNISH: Linda Holmes, our pop culture critic and host of Pop Culture Happy Hour, and Eric Deggans, NPR's TV critic, thanks so much.
HOLMES: Thanks, Audie.
DEGGANS: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF DJ FORMAT SONG, "TURNING POINT")
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