TV and SXSW have had a mutually beneficial relationship for more than half a decade. From the premiere of “Girls” in 2012 to the introduction of the Episodic section in 2014 to last year’s “Barry” debut, the Austin-based film festival has expanded beyond network offerings to independent TV screenings as well. Serialized offerings have left their stamp on programming, and the 2019 lineup shows things aren’t slowing down.
But you don’t have to fly to Texas to appreciate all the goodies coming out of this year’s schedule. There’s so much to be learned from this year’s festival, whether it’s what upcoming TV shows to tune in for, the market for indie TV at film festivals, or wise words from the many featured speakers. Heck, at SXSW, even the activations offer insights into exciting work around the corner.
IndieWire has gathered up the most intriguing offerings from this year’s lineup and listed them below. If you’re headed to Austin, this is your road map to must-see TV. If you’re staying home, expect to read a lot more about these potential highlights very soon.
What Is It? Set in Staten Island, Jemaine Clement’s new FX series “What We Do in the Shadows” follows three vampires who have been roommates for hundreds and hundreds of years. The half-hour comedy is adapted from Clement and Taika Waititi’s 2014 film of the same name, though it tracks a new set of characters.
Why’s It Matter? The original film, shot as a mockumentary, helped to deglamorize the wave of sexy vampires sweeping our culture (there’s a “Twilight” dig to die for), and the TV show looks to expand the well-meaning satire driving Clement’s earnest appreciation of vampiric lore. “What We Do in the Shadows” should work for genre enthusiasts and comedy fans alike, as the creative opportunities within the show’s expanded world-building looks to provide a bevy of laughs. FX is pretty high on this one.
- Friday, March 8 at 10pm CT in the Paramount Theatre
Unfiltered: Pamela Adlon Embraces “Better Things”
What Is It? A candid conversation with “Better Things” actor, producer, writer, and director Pamela Adlon. Join the Emmy winner as she discusses her storied career including the return of her semi-autobiographical and critically-acclaimed FX series, which offers a refreshingly honest perspective on motherhood, feminism, friendship, and aging in Hollywood.
Why’s It Matter? Adlon, to put it mildly, is a badass. She started a green initiative on her set that eliminated all disposable plastics, and she bought everyone in her cast and crew reusable water bottles to compensate for any inconvenience. Moreover, she’s a brilliant, subtle, and adventurous director, not to mention an engaging, thoughtful, and entertaining speaker. The last time Adlon stepped behind a mic, it was at the “Better Things” Season 3 premiere post-Oscars, and she belted out the opening to “Shallow” just for the hell of it. What will she say — or sing — next? Show up to find out. (And don’t forget to watch “Better Things.”)
- Saturday, March 9 at 2pm CT in the Austin Convention Center, Room 18ABCD
Hulu’s Triple Play
Allyson Riggs / Hulu
What Is It? Hulu is taking three big shots at SXSW. First up, it’s premiering “Ramy,” a new comedy from creator, star, and producer Ramy Youssef and executive producer Jerrod Carmichael. The half-hour series follows Ramy Hassan, a first generation Egyptian-American who is on a spiritual journey in his politically-divided New Jersey neighborhood. Next up is the latest installment of “Into the Dark,” starring Kier O’Donnell, Hayes MacArthur and Jessica McNamee. Adam Mason’s “I’m Just Fucking With You” follows a man and his sister as they endure increasingly insane practical jokes over one long April Fools’ night at a motel. Finally, Hulu’s star-studded half-hour comedy “Shrill” debuts at SXSW, starring “SNL’s” Aidy Bryant and executive produced by Lorne Michaels, Elizabeth Banks, and Lindy West. The series tracks Annie, a fat young woman who wants to change her life — but not her body. Annie is trying to start her career while juggling bad boyfriends, a sick parent, and a perfectionist boss.
Why’s It Matter? Long a fan of the festival release — among other shows, “Casual” debuted at TIFF in 2015, and “The Handmaid’s Tale” premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival — Hulu is betting big on the weird allure of SXSW premieres to build buzz around its new programming. “Into the Dark” seems like a perfect fit for Austin, as horror plays well for the excitable audiences. “Ramy” might be a tougher sell, but Jerrod Carmichael’s presence should help it attract a few extra fans. And “Shrill” is getting a massive push: Not only is it playing at the Stateside Theatre (right next to the the Paramount on Congress Ave), but Elizabeth Banks and Aidy Bryant are also taking part in a featured session. Given that “Handmaid’s,” the streaming service’s breakout program won’t be back until June — and Hulu’s recent issues launching high-profile originals — any additional buzz for these offerings is critical.
- “Ramy”: Saturday, March 9 at 5pm CT in the Alamo Lamar
- “Into the Dark: I’m Just Fucking with You”: Sunday, March 10 at 8:45pm CT in the Alamo Ritz
- “Shrill”: Monday, March 11 at 8:30pm CT in the Stateside Theatre
“Love, Death & Robots”
What Is It? “Love, Death & Robots” is a collection of animated short stories that span the science fiction, fantasy, horror, and comedy genres. With a bold approach to each story’s narrative, episodes are intended to be easy to watch and hard to forget. Executive produced by David Fincher, Tim Miller, Jennifer Miller, and Josh Donen, the series brings together world-class animation creators and captivating stories for the first anthology of short animated stories guaranteed to deliver a unique and visceral viewing experience.
Why’s It Matter? David Fincher and Netflix have had a mutually beneficial relationship since the streaming giant started making originals, and “Love, Death & Robots” represents another opportunity to stretch subscribers’ expectations of what the two can offer. There are 18 short-form episodes in Season 1, each ranging from 5 – 15 minutes apiece, and featuring old-school two-dimensional, hand-drawn graphics as well as state-of-the-art, photo-realistic CGI. Short-form animation isn’t anything new, but whenever it’s elevated by a creator or platform and shared with a wider audience, there’s a recirculation of its value. Plus, if you’re at SXSW, you can see all of this on the big screen. That’s a win.
- Saturday, March 9 at 9:30pm CT in the Alamo Ritz
Indie TV, Take Two
What Is It? The second annual Indie Episodic program hits SXSW with 12 independently produced pilots looking to break through. The pilots will be shown in two separate programs.
Why’s It Matter? Indie TV is a burgeoning enterprise in Hollywood, and the industry doesn’t know exactly what to do with it. So far, festivals have been one of the most effective ways for creators outside the studio system to get their work seen by those within it, even if the exposure can be pretty hit and miss. This year’s Sundance Film Festival featured its second Indie Episodic lineup, and quite a few gained distribution because of Sundance’s stamp of approval. SXSW isn’t known as a place to buy TV — not yet, anyway — and how much of audience as well as what kind of audience shows up will go a long way in determining the viability of this emerging market.
- Indie Episodic Pilot Program No. 1: Sunday, March 10 at 11am CT in the Alamo Lamar
- Indie Episodic Pilot Program No. 2: Sunday, March 10 at 2pm CT in the Alamo Lamar
“Broad City” Finale
What Is It? Created by, written by, and starring Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, the critically acclaimed “Broad City” follows Abbi and Ilana as they navigate life in New York, capturing their hookups, relationships, crappy jobs, and, ultimately, their badass friendship. In the final season, Ilana starts her own business and learns about her ancestors, while Abbi turns 30 and…tries to pull off a hat. Finally, we’ll be saying goodbye to Abbi, Ilana, and this iconic series.
Why’s It Matter? “Broad City” started as a web series before getting picked up by Comedy Central, so it’s exactly the kind of show that might be screening a pilot in SXSW’s Indie Episodic section if it was coming out this year instead of closing up shop. That alone makes it a milestone worth celebrating, but Jacobson and Glazer’s series is an inventive, joyous, and cathartic look at friendship, growing up, and life in NYC. There’s so much to admire that seeing it end will be heartbreaking, no matter what fates await these wonderful women. Get a sneak peek, and then join in the communal mourning at the end of the month.
- Sunday, March 10 at 2:15pm CT in the Zach Theatre
“David Makes Man” Premiere
What Is It? From “Moonlight” co-writer Tarell Alvin McCraney (and inspired by his life), “David Makes Man” is a one-hour lyrical drama that centers on a 14-year-old prodigy from the projects who is haunted by the death of his closest friend and relied on by his hardworking mother to find a way out of poverty. Set in South Florida, the drama stars Akili McDowell (“The Astronaut Wives Club”) who plays “David,” the ferociously driven, passionate young teenager who toggles between two distinct personas that reflect his surroundings. David metabolizes the world like a chameleon, using his vivid and powerful imagination to escape the inherent trauma of poverty. The series also stars Phylicia Rashad as David’s teacher, Dr. Woods-Trap.
Why’s It Matter? Between “Moonlight” and “High Flying Bird,” Tarell McCraney is producing great work with vital talking points, and this OWN original series looks to be more of the same. It’s worth mentioning that before he broke out on screen, the Steppenwolf Theatre scripe won a MacArthur genius grant in 2013, so it’s not like this writer came out of nowhere. He’s consistently expanding his craft and looking for new challenges: TV is the next frontier, so let’s see what he does with it.
- Sunday, March 10 at 5:30pm CT in the Alamo Lamar
Showtime Takes Over Austin
What Is It? In addition to The Showtime House (at Clive Bar on Rainey Street) — a venue dedicated to different Showtime programming each day, including “The Chi,” “Shameless,” “Black Monday,” and the upcoming music docuseries, “Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men” — the premium cable network will also be screening an early cut of Morgan Neville’s Rick Rubin documentary, “Shangri-La.”
Why’s It Matter? The house is a great experience for fans, as well as an opportunity to remind audiences of the network’s diverse programming slate, but the “Shangri-La” screening is a bigger deal than one might think. Neville’s “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” may have been snubbed at the Oscars, but it was a huge awards player and made a significant impact on the culture overall. Plus, he already won an Academy Award for “20 Feet From Stardom,” and he’s a Tony away from EGOT-ing. In short, his work is automatically a must-see, so even a sneak peek (which often hews close to the final cut) is exciting.
- “Shangri-La” (Work-in-Progress Screening): Monday, March 11 at 2:45pm CT in the Paramount Theatre