‘Underground’ Review: WGN America’s Slave Railroad Drama Is Compelling TV

Thursday, Mar 3, 2016

DEADLINE – The journey and escape of thousands of slaves to free states and Canada in the 19th century is one of the most fascinating and defiant parts of American history but one that has received little attention on the small screen. That’s about to change on March 9 when Underground debuts on WGN America.


Created by Misha Green and Joe Pokaski, the not-to-be-missed drama about the Underground Railroad is, as my video review above says, a harrowing and compelling series that will make you uncomfortable, amazed and ultimately inspired by one of the most treacherous and ambitious chapters in this nation’s story.


Picked up for a full-season order in February 2015, the 10-episode first season of Underground focuses on the field slaves and house slaves of a Georgia plantation who begin a pre-Civil War 600-mile trek northward for their freedom and dignity. The tenacious ensemble cast includes True Blood’s Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Straight Outta Compton’s Aldis Hodge, Jane The Virgin’s Alano Miller, Jessica de Gouw, Law & Order: SVU alum Christopher Meloni, Amirah Vann and Justified’s Mykelti Williamson, among others. Empire’s Jussie Smollett and Treme’s Renwick Scott also guest star in the show exec produced by Green, Pokaski, John Legend, Mike Jackson, Ty Stiklorius, Tory Tunnell, Joby Harold and Akiva Goldsman. Anthony Hemingway is also an EP and directs the opening episodes of the series.


In many ways, the raw and rugged Underground succeeds, as I also say in my video review above, by spotlighting the personal in the greater wilderness of the political hurricanes of the era it depicts. The relationships and the agendas of the series’ slave characters, the people who claim ownership and domain over them, the hunters who seek to snare them and the abolitionists who fight to help them find freedom form a complex mosaic that does justice to the true stories of the time.


Underground is a sometimes unflinching portrait of resistance, extreme courage and love – and what people will do and did do against one of the greatest of injustices humanity is capable of. It is also television that is well worth watching. Meeting a high bar in this age of a Roots miniseries remake, Sony Pictures TV and Tribune Studios’ Underground is that rare case of content that can reveal to all of us who we are and where many of our neighbors, friends and family — as well as our country — came from.


Watch my review then watch Underground when it debuts next week.


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