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5 Things We Learned at TCA: Day 14

To mark the second solid week of the Television Critics Assn. press tour, Hulu brought previewed some new series, including limited adaptation “Catch-22,” anthology “The Act” and comedies “Shrill” and “Ramy,” while BET paneled its television version of “Boomerang”; Nickelodeon celebrated the 20th anniversary of “SpongeBob SquarePants” and Comedy Central celebrated new series “The Other Two” with a second season renewal. Also, the day before “Miracle Workers” was set to premiere on TBS, the stars and creator talked about their anthology comedy.

Here, Variety breaks down five things learned at TCA Day 14.

Angle on Faith
Comedian Ramy Youssef will premiere the first season of his self-titled comedy series on Hulu April 19, in which he wanted to explore “the slices of life that nobody knows about” when it comes to his Muslim faith. Growing up, Youssef said he mostly saw stories about first generation immigrant children who came into conflict with their parents because the kids wanted to emulate their white friends instead but that was never his story. “I want to go to Mecca but I also want to go to Burning Man,” he said. “This is not a ‘how to be Muslim guide;’ this is not outtakes from the Koran.” His goal with the show was to show Muslims who “have flaws and are sitting in our problems” because “what really shows someone’s good is that they’re a real human being.” Meanwhile over on TBS, Steve Buscemi plays God in Simon Rich’s “Miracle Workers,” also starring Daniel Radcliffe and Geraldine Viswanathan as two angels tasked with granting miracles.

Cartoon’s China Anniversary
Nickelodeon is celebrating “SpongeBob SquarePants’s” upcoming 20th anniversary with a special episode that mixes live-action and animation and will feature the long-running series’ voice cast as human versions of the characters. “It was really weird,” Roger Bumpass, who voices Squidward, said of “SpongeBob’s Big Birthday Blowout.” “I had the hardest time explaining to friends what we did in the live-action episode. People just didn’t understand we were playing doppelgangers of our characters.” In the one-hour special, Patrick and SpongeBob journey to the surface world, where they come across a few familiar characters during lunchtime rush at The Trusty Slab restaurant. Meanwhile, the Bikini Bottom residents set up a surprise party for SpongeBob. In addition to this episode, Nickelodeon is also commemorating the series with a new product line by Alpha Group, collaborations with Cynthia Rowley for a SpongeBob wetsuit, the launch of a dedicated YouTube channel and a mobile game.

Mad Mama
Margo Martindale has been cast in Hulu’s limited series “The Act,” executive producer Nick Antosca announced on stage during the show’s panel. She will portray Dee Dee Blanchard’s mother, Emma Pitre, “a mercurial Louisiana matriarch who had quite a few control issues of her own,” in the sixth episode. Series star Patricia Arquette, who plays Dee Dee, said the episode explores the “chemical or ancestral through line” that has informed Dee Dee’s behavior. “The Act” focuses on the true, “toxic” relationship between Dee Dee and her daughter Gypsy (Joey King). The older Blanchard had Munchausen by proxy and convinced her daughter and the world around them that Gypsy suffered from numerous ailments that left her wheelchair bound and using a feeding tube. The younger Blanchard ended up conspiring to have her mother killed and in real-life is now in prison.

Halle Berry Returns to ‘Boomerang
Twenty-seven years after the actress starred in the Reginald Hudlin-directed feature film, she is executive producing and guest starring in BET’s television continuation adaptation. Rather than focus on the original characters, this series looks at their children, having grown up in an affluent world, now trying to make names for themselves. Berry said on-stage that she would be appearing in the first season, with executive producer Lena Waithe adding that hopefully other original cast members will see the season and want to be involved should they get renewed. The original movie, Waithe acknowledged, was seen as a fantasy because of where “we were at that time,” but she responded to it because it showed “people trying to be the best versions they can be.” Noting that she wants the show to be the “LeBron [James] to the Michael Jordan of the movie,” Waithe said the show advances the conversations around and depictions of the African-American community, especially by not shying away from the fact that there is queerness within it — but also not writing those stories as issue-based, PSA style. “We just let it live,” Waithe said. Berry added that she thinks that approach is “forcing our community to grow and evolve. We can’t just keep feeding them what makes them comfortable. [With the original] we got to see ourselves in ways we weren’t really but were aspiring to be. Now we’re there.”

No ‘Handmaid’s’ at the 2019 Emmys
Despite Hulu’s dystopian drama “The Handmaid’s Tale” being a staple during the last two Emmy seasons, this year the series will sit out the race, as the third season is slated to premiere June 5 on the streamer. The series took home many trophies during its freshman season, including drama series and lead actress in a drama for star Elisabeth Moss, but did not have a second sophomore run at the race. The first year of “Handmaid’s” eligibility (2017), “Game of Thrones” was ineligible, but the HBO epic returned in 2018 and took the drama series prize. Hulu senior vice president of originals Craig Erwich said the decision to keep “The Handmaid’s Tale” out of the 2019 Emmy race was not to avoid competition with the final season of “Game of Thrones” but instead was focused on “maintaining the quality” of the show, which he called “impeccable.” “We wanted to give the show enough time in Season 3 to maintain the incredibly high standards that were set in Seasons 1 and 2,” he said. “[Executive producers] Bruce [Miller], Warren [Littlefield] and Lizzie [Moss] really talk in character and theme so the creative direction we’re taking for Season 3 is really dictated by that.” He also said the third season will have a slightly different tone than the previous, with “resilience” being one of the themes.

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