WGN America’s latest original scripted series is a “Prison Break”- or “The Fugitive”-style thriller with a provocative twist: its protagonists are runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad, circa 1857. In the hourlong, 10-episode series, from co-creators Misha Green and Joe Polaski, an enslaved blacksmith named Noah (Aldis Hodge) organizes a small band of bondspeople and sets in motion a daring escape.
Though escapees were a vanishingly small portion of the overall enslaved population in the antebellum U.S., the issue of “fugitive slaves,” as the infamous 1850 law had it, assumed outsized importance in the years preceding the Civil War — and “Underground” is more invested in this mythic history than the nuances of the real one. (For the latter, Eric Foner’s “Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad” is a fine place to start.) The above featurette does not suggest a historical drama in the vein of “12 Years a Slave,” nor a revenge fantasy à la “Django Unchained,” but a series that splits the difference, for better or for worse. Still, at a moment of heightened awareness with regard to opportunities for actors and filmmakers of color, it’s refreshing to see a TV series embrace black talent in front of and behind the camera.
“Underground,” which co-stars Jurnee
Smollett-Bell, Christopher Meloni, Marc Blucas, and Mykelti Williamson, is executive produced by Akiva
Goldsman (“A Beautiful Mind”) of Weed Road
Pictures and Joby Harold (“Edge of
Tomorrow”) and Tory Tunnell (“King Arthur”) of Safehouse Pictures. Anthony Hemingway (“The Wire,” “Treme”)
directed the first four episodes. The series premieres on WGN America March 9.