Hulu at TCA: More Musicals and More Mel Brooks

By Behind the Scenes in Hollywood Archives
Cover image for  article: Hulu at TCA: More Musicals and More Mel Brooks

Pasadena, CA: Musicals of all kinds have been popping up on multiple TV platforms of late, but Hulu on Saturday took the lead with sessions for two tuneful series (one new, the other returning) during its presention at the Winter 2023 Television Critics Association tour.

Up Here, debuting March 24, is an original musical series led by Mae Whitman (pictured at top, right) and Carlos Valdes (top left). The love story, set in 1999, breaks the musical tradition by “taking the musical often going on inside someone’s head and translating it to the screen” (kind of what Zoe’s Extraordinary Playlist did for NBC). The series will display another side to Whitman’s talents, one that avid viewers of her work may not be too familiar with. “For me, there’s something terrifying and so vulnerable about [singing],” Whitman said. “I sang a little on Parenthood, and have loved doing it, but never felt brave enough to do it in front of people, like at a piano or something. I felt so passionate about this, and they created a world where I felt safe and could endure those terrifying places. It broke a barrier for me, and I couldn’t have done it if not for these people.

“We had the best from every category working on this,” she continued. “We basically recorded an album and rehearsed every day for a month in the same building, so it was almost like camp. It was such an unbelievable experience, lots of work, but it was amazing.”

When asked about the recent influx and popularity of the musical format on television, especially with the explosion of musical special one-offs, and the success of shows like Schmigadoon! on Apple TV+, series creator and executive producer Robert Lopez (Frozen/WandaVision) perfectly put it into perspective. “I don’t think we have ever had a generation of musical writers that grew up with television,” he shared. “TV is so great; we just want to be a part of it and then feel very lucky.”

New dramaSaint X premieres on April 26 with its first three (out of eight) episodes, followed by new episodes weekly. It explores how a young woman’s mysterious death during an idyllic Caribbean vacation pulls her surviving sister into a dangerous pursuit of the truth. Shot largely in the Dominican Republic, the setting may look idyllic but, in reality, the weather proved a hindrance to its cast. “It was 40 degrees Celsius, and it was hot,” recalled Australian-born actress Alycia Debnam-Carey. “But I also got to shoot in New York for the first time. One of the amazing things about being an actor is going to places you wouldn't normally get to go.”

Michael Park, who portrays the distraught father, found the project cathartic on a deeply personal level. “My brother had just lost a son, his son, at 20 years old,” he explained. “I was kind of channeling my brother. We talked about this extensively. And it was such a great team. I felt like I was in safe hands. I was dedicating a lot of this to my brother and my nephew, and really tapping into that. In a way, it helped me out. This entire shoot in a way was therapy for me.”

History of the World Part II, the long-awaited follow-up to Mel Brooks’ 1981 classic film History of the World Part I will premiere as a four-night event (two episodes per day) starting March 6. Entrusted to continue Brooks’ story and star in the project was long-time fan Nick Kroll, who found himself working closely with the comedy legend. “I think what was so exciting about doing the show and continuing Mel's legacy was that Mel's ultimate goal was always to poke fun at those in power and how greedy and stupid they were,” Kroll said. “So, doing a show about history now, at a time when we are reexamining what [was] the past, and how things went down, it became a very easy throughline to just continue Mel's legacy of poking fun at those in power.

“I met Mel at an Emmy party many years ago,” he continued. “I told Kevin Salter, who's a producer on the show, that I would love to meet him. We had a meeting with him, and he gave us boxes of Raisinets on our way out. It was the greatest day of my life.”

Kroll also had praise for the litany of guest stars appearing in the series, including Wanda Sykes, Ike Barinholtz and Sarah Silverman to name a few. “It’s a murderer’s row of talent,” he said of the cast. “Some we only had for a day. They loved having the chance to work with friends, or even meet someone they’ve admired. It was a dream come true to work with all these different people. Like Danny DeVito … He doesn’t have to work another day in his life and was like, ‘It’s Mel. I’ll do it!’”

Tiny Beautiful Things, based on the best-selling collection by Cheryl Strayed, drops all eight of its episodes on April 7. The series centers on Clare, a woman who becomes a revered advice columnist when her own life is falling apart, and it marks a return to the  limited series format for its star, Kathryn Hahn, who scored as Agatha Harkness in WandaVision. Hahn explained why the format works so well for her. “As I have gotten older, the more gratitude I feel, the [hungrier] I feel, and the more juiced up I feel by this medium,” she said. “This is just where it is … [there are] different kinds of voices, and storytellers, more importantly even than the performances.

“I don't feel it as much in film,” she added. “So, I feel super psyched to be around at this age, at this time, in this medium.”

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