It becomes apparent from the moment I set foot in the International Ballroom at the Beverly Hilton that Netflix wants to put on a show. There are women in shiny leotards and big curly wigs. There are people with novelty t-shirts bearing the names of highly specific “taste communities” on the back. But the most obvious sign of all is the slow stream of people who walk up to my seat as I’m feverishly typing away to tell me, “hey, the special performance is about to start in the next room,” or, “hi, please join us for the brunch with our special guests next door.” So I put down my work (huge mistake) and head off to be entertained. It’s a gospel choir! They’re good, but man, it’s a lot.
“Good, but man, it’s a lot” neatly sums up much of the Netflix experience at the Television Critics Association summer press tour. Fresh off their first appearance at the top of the Emmy nominations heap, the streaming giant wants to share information about their new and returning shows, but also to keep us, the distractible masses, from getting sleepy and missing anything. As a result, the day looks like kind of a blur from this side of it, a haze of women in Sabrina the Teenage Witch wigs (lots of wigs, this fine day) and fake awards handed out to critics, gospel and snacks and the odd dodged question. But for you, dear Reader, I shall try to peer through the haze of advanced sleep deprivation into the surreal, often exciting day to recreate the shindig. Here are some highlights from Netflix Day—go ahead and hit the ‘skip credits’ button if you want.
All hail Nicole Byer, entertainer of very tired people
Have you seen “Nailed It”? It’s a delight, a cooking show that Netflix calls “part reality contest, part hot mess.” It centers on home bakers with spotty skills going head to head in an attempt to bake elaborate culinary confections. It’s hosted by comedian Nicole Byer, who Netflix brought to the TCA tour as an energetic, irreverent, and slightly bewildered mistress of ceremonies. Byer could have been only a wee bit funny and her appearance would still have been welcome, if only because she broke up the day so ably. But Byer’s distinct voice and impeccable timing kept journalists interested and laughing.
She was also a constant physical reminder of the foray Netflix is making into the world of food TV. A snack break late in the day allowed attendees the chance to try “nailing it” themselves by recreating a cat-spider cupcake created by the talent at the center of forthcoming series “The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell”; in the next room, stations offered snacks that reflected the principles of Samin Nosrat’s book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, which is also getting the Netflix treatment this fall—and it looks great.
The women of “GLOW” and the glow-up
Betty Gilpin is tall. She’s not the only striking figure on the “GLOW” stage — this is a cast of striking figures, prepared to strike other figures for entertainment—but after days of encountering very petite famous people, it’s pleasantly jarring to see someone crack 5’7’’.
Still, maybe that has nothing to do with height. Among the many highlights of the “GLOW” panel, which included Alison Brie, Marc Maron, Sydelle Noel, Britney Young, Kia Stevens, Jackie Tohn, and Britt Baron, was a spirited discussion about the show-within-a-show aspects of the, ah, show, and how the GLOW wrestling characters affect the lives of the “GLOW” characters. Here’s Gilpin on Debbie, talking about the importance of feeling tall, in the episode “Mother of all Matches”:
“I really relate to Debbie in a lot of ways, as a woman and actress, and from watching my friends become mothers, I guess I see this part of them that you sort of connect to your Greek self. And maybe everyone feels this way, that there's this tiny part of you that thinks, ‘oh, maybe I could be powerful, and maybe I could be special, and loud, and a thousand feet tall, if someone gave me the opportunity to.’ Then Debbie feels that way, and then her job for the day is to paint her nails and put on a nice outfit. And this thousand-foot-tall feeling gets crammed into this very small posing package, and I think she's just done with it, and is ready to explode. I think wrestling has given her an opportunity to feel a thousand feet tall, if only for five minutes. But I think that a trait that a lot of the characters share is that, even though we're all very different, I think a lot of us are very lonely, and feel like our lives didn't go the way that we thought they would. And that ‘GLOW,’ the show within the show, is this sort of weird island where we get to pretend to be the warriors we thought we were gonna become when we were little girls. Then we're all going back to our houses, crying in our bathrooms [laughs]. But I think that that warrior-self that they're finding in the ring is slowly bleeding into their personal lives. I think Liberty Belle has made Debbie a stronger Debbie—at the grocery store, and at work as a producer.”
This is it, the “One Day at a Time” panel
In the moments leading up to the “One Day at a Time” portion of the proceedings, you could feel the air in the ballroom shift palpably. Was it the impending appearances of Rita Moreno and Normal Lear, both living legends? Was it the chance to ask about the show’s mastery of the multi-cam format, or about how it manages to pair so much light and warmth with the tendency to take long, unapologetic looks at the issues that Latinx people confront all the time? Was it just that we love the theme song so much? All of that, probably, and more, because “One Day at a Time” is, without a doubt, one of the best shows on television, and the affection for it in the room was obvious.
There’s a chance such a level of pleasant anticipation could backfire—what if the panel was just okay? But nah, man, this is “One Day at a Time” we’re talking about, and the conversation was delightful the whole way through.
Marcel Ruiz, the youngest member of the cast, revealed that he’d only come over from Puerto Rico six years ago and spoke no English at the time, which prompted Moreno to say, “That is impressive, wow. He's also so fucking cute.” Then, as the crowd laughed, “Yes, I'm a dirty old lady just like Lydia, where do you think they got all that stuff?”
Asked by this writer about Gloria Estefan’s upcoming appearance on the series (she also sings the theme), Moreno said the episode is “hilarious, and she’s wonderful in it.” Showrunners Mike Royce and Gloria Calderon Kellett also they “haven’t not” talked about a musical number for Moreno.
But the standout moment came when The A.V. Club’s Danette Chavez asked about the second season’s episode centered on colorism. Kellett answered first:
“Yes, well, my life, right? My brother is very dark. He is this beautiful caramel color, and I was the blanquita. I'm very white-passing, so a lot of times people will say things about Latinos in my presence because they don't know that I am Latina. So I thought, this is a great opportunity… My brother... lives in San Diego, and he called, and he [said], "I was just at the beach with my kids and somebody told me to go back to Mexico."... And he was more like stunned 'cause we've lived there for so long and it's a very diverse city, it's actually half brown in San Diego. So we were both just in shock about it. And I thought … the cast of these two young people, we can talk about that. And so it felt important and something that we could do.
Then Isabella Gomez, who plays the “white-passing” teenager Elena, added: “And it was such a moment to educate, because I always tell the story. Whenever Ariela Barer, who plays Carmen in the first season, and I would talk about the industry and like, ‘Have you faced racism?’ I'd be like, ‘No, I haven't.’ And then I read that script and I was like, oh, I'm white-passing! My entire life makes sense now. So it's just like a good teaching moment.”
There were a lot. Jason Bateman, Laura Linney, and Julia Garner talked about the evolution and crumbling ethical centers of their characters on “Ozark”; Bateman also said, to paraphrase, “we know we’re not 'Breaking Bad,' okay?” A panel on Matt Groening’s new series, “Disenchantment,” revealed Abbi Jacobson and Eric Andre’s obvious enthusiasm for the project and low-key awe at being involved in a Groening project. Chuck Lorre and Michael Douglas talked about working with some underused tools in their tool kits—single-camera dramedy, for Lorre; comedy, for Douglas. Netflix VP Cindy Holland said, again paraphrasing, “No, we don’t want 'Timeless'” and “Yes, we do want more 'Master of None.'” And the young people of “The Innocents” charmed a bunch of tired souls with their earnest discussions of shape-shifting.