Last week I broke my favorite internet writing rule to break, and read comments on my Underground essay. There were a couple of mentions, as there have also been on Twitter, about the lack of coverage for one of the most entertaining and powerful examples of the Golden Age of TV, on air right now. I then perused the internet to see if some of my personal favorite TV critics had written about the series yet, and indeed… the silence was deafening. The good news is that it was the exact opposite sound I hear every Wednesday night when Underground is trending, and the audience is losing their collective minds over the sheer brilliance of Misha Green and Joe Pokaski’s series.
Last year I had a similar experience with another show I loved, but sort of in the reverse. I’d hop on Twitter and hear crickets when HBO’s The Leftovers was on. But I was so grateful when a big name in TV or entertainment criticism would write a piece, begging people to give the glorious second season a try. The Leftovers didn’t have great viewership, but had no trouble gaining critical acclaim, and that counts for quite a bit in the long run. For this reason, I’m offering up a plea (served, admittedly, with a dash of side-eye) for critics who haven’t started writing about this series yet. It’s not too late. And tonight’s episode, “Cradle,” is one of the most incredible hours of television and historical narrative I’ve ever experienced.
On this, the day when it was confirmed that Harriet Tubman would be replacing Andrew Jackson on a piece of American currency, I can think of no better way to celebrate the legacy of one of the greatest heroes this country has ever known. Here are 9 reasons the Harriet Tubman within me needs more of you (TV critics and otherwise) who aren’t yet watching, to jump on this train, and start falling in love with this show. And while it’s true that a list of 20 reasons would have been cooler, I’m going to spend the time it would have taken me to come up with 11 more reasons, on re-watching “Cradle,” and writing my piece for tonight’s episode. So there.
It hurts to see some of the most incredible women characters I’ve ever seen, unfolding before my eyes every week… and so few think-pieces to capture their greatness: Rosalee, Ernestine, Pearly Mae… come on TV critics, I can’t do this alone.
Harriet Tubman made it to Philadelphia, looked around and promptly returned back down south to get her peoples. Y’all TV critics are my peoples, and what good is all the glorious pleasure I receive from Underground, if I can’t enjoy it with you?
I may not be the devout Christian that Tubman was. But I understand the power of the Word, and I know my fellow critics love a healthy does of religious undertones and theory in their peak TV. With episodes like “Troubled Water,” the writers of Underground got you covered.
I know WGN isn’t HBO or AMC. But don’t worry about what the cool TV critics are all busy championing right now. There was a time when preaching abolitionism wasn’t very popular either, but you don’t want to be on the wrong side of history on this one.
Some of the first enslaved people Tubman freed were her brothers and other family members. Her story (and her heroism) began, in many ways, as a personal story about the familial bond. Underground, in addition to being a grand show about big themes, is also a story about family. The relationship between Miss Ernestine and each of her children makes up so much of the tension of this great series, and offers up plenty of material to write about.
During a time when the Oscars remain so white, and TV is one of the few places that seems to consistently lead the way in creating an entertainment world that reflects all of America, every TV critic should be interested in seeing more fascinating black characters brought to us by black writers, directors and showrunners. We should all be interested in peak TV’s role in celebrating black excellence. In other words, the Harriet Tubman in me sees the John Brown in you. Let’s do this.
What made Tubman a superhero was the incredible effort she put forth, all in the name of loving her people. My fellow critics out there who claim to love the stories being told on TV and the way they’re being told, know that we have to do the work to reflect that love, and to ensure that such stories keep getting told. If you love TV and what it is capable of bringing into people’s lives, you should be writing about how this show is reshaping history and TV at the same damn time.
When she discovered her first husband had fallen in love with another, the great Harriet Tubman didn’t give up on love. She married again… and to a much younger fellow, because true love (sometimes in the form of a much younger guy) conquers all. Our Golden Age wouldn’t exist without some of the greatest, most complicated romances between exciting characters who steal our hearts. TV critics who aren’t watching are missing out on the unfolding of Rosalee and Noah in a very big way.
No, it’s not the 1800s. And no, I don’t actually wish to draw a direct comparison between the act of writing TV criticism, and the act of conducting on the Underground Railround (hopefully, you’ve picked up on the playfulness of this piece). However, I do believe we are living in a time where we can’t afford to sit on the sidelines and wait for the politicians or even the protestors to do all of the work needed to better our society. This is a unique time in American history, and we need all hands—and as many cultural critics as we can get—on deck.
Underground is a part of a movement that seeks to redefine America (again), and redefining a culture requires many, many voices of the people. Yes, we TV critics represent such voices. Those voices—though they might clash and criticize as much as they analyze and cheer—should be ringing out every week.
Shannon M. Houston is a Staff Writer and the TV Editor for Paste. This New York-based freelancer probably has more babies than you, but that’s okay; you can still be friends. She welcomes almost all follows on Twitter.