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TV’s Battle of the Binge: Why the Wait Can Be Worth It

Streaming TV promised to free us from schedules, but series like “WandaVision” show that weekly rituals still have power.Disney+’s “WandaVision” began with a bold, disorienting move, taking viewers and depositing them without explanation into an unsettling bubble of 1950s television.I am referring, of course, to the show’s practice of releasing new episodes only once every week.Releasing TV installments on a schedule — “Same bat-time, same bat-channel,” as the show’s superhero predecessor “Batman” promised — was standard practice in the days of black-and-white TV, and still is on most traditional networks. But the age of Netflix has led accustomed streaming fans to getting full seasons all at once, and some WandaViewers did not care to wait for what an IndieWire review referred to as “inconvenient weekly installments.”“WandaVision” is not the first streaming show to face complaints for not feeding its audience on the all-you-can-eat plan. Last year, Eric Kripke, the showrunner of Amazon’s dystopian superhero drama “The Boys” defended the decision to release Season 2’s episodes weekly, against some fans’ objections, “to have time to sort of slow down a little bit and have conversations about everything.” (“The Boys” did release its first three episodes on its premiere date, “WandaVision” its first two; Disney is also following the weekly model with its latest Marvel series, “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.”)Slow down? We are not much of a slowdown society these days. If people can have something, they increasingly believe they should, in Costco-size portions, to be savored or swallowed anaconda-like as they see fit. Who the hell is anyone else to tell us to chew in between bites? We’ll — cough — we’ll chew when we feel like it!Fans’ increasing expectation of — and creators’ occasional pushback against — the binge model resonates with other tech-driven arguments over how art should properly be enjoyed. Should the audience or the artist decide how the work is best experienced? Are you violating the artistic intention of an album when you listen to it on shuffle? Are you a cretin for watching a movie on your phone when the director insisted it be viewed on a big screen?Certainly, advocates of “I want it all, now” can sound entitled, like kids on the Wonka factory tour grousing that the gobstoppers aren’t coming fast enough. But there can also be a kind of high-handedness to the defense of weekly airings, as if the communal watercooler ritual were somehow more authentic, and as if viewers needed to be guided toward the correct choice lest they, like children failing the marshmallow test, make the wrong one.Maybe a more useful way of looking at the weekly and binge models is that neither is inherently better. Instead, they’re one more set of storytelling tools — like shooting in front of a studio audience, or not — creatively suited to different kinds of stories.Release schedules, like many aspects of TV, are a case of the creative format following the business model. In the days of rabbit-ears TV, you watched a show when it was beamed at you or not at all. Weekly (or daily) schedules built habits and fan bases.Some fans objected to the weekly schedule of Amazon’s “The Boys,” but its creator said the slower cadence allowed for more conversation about the show.Jasper Savage/Amazon StudiosWhen Netflix entered the original-series business in the early teens, it could have followed some form of scheduling. Instead, dropping full seasons at once was a way of branding it as a forward-looking business — this ain’t your grandma’s TV! — and a way to find viewers where broadcast TV wasn’t. (By letting viewers watch at their leisure, Netflix laid claim to the vast stretches, like Fridays and Saturdays, when fans had a lot of time and less marquee scheduled programming.)For an era — well, a few years — this defined streaming TV. And the different formats led to different creative forms. Traditional TV serials broke stories into structured units with tune-in-next-time endings. Binge series are often looser in episode structure, sometimes to the extent that whole seasons can feel like extended “episodes.” (Or extended movies, like Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” whose season titles — “Stranger Things 2,” “Stranger Things 3”— recalled the film franchises that inspired the series.)Eventually some competitors, like Hulu, Apple and Disney, separated themselves from Netflix with old-school weekly schedules, at least for some series. And Disney+, with its first streaming phenomena, showed that the traditional TV schedule works best for shows that play like traditional TV, with tight episode construction and careful maintenance of suspense.Mystery, in particular, lends itself well to the waiting game. In “WandaVision,” part of the mystery was the show itself: What were these weekly “sitcoms,” really, and who was in charge? The effect wasn’t ruined by bingeing (I recently rewatched it with my wife, who caught up on it over a couple of days), but it really benefited from giving it a long-term lease in your head.Disney+’s “Star Wars” western, “The Mandalorian,” was a different sort of mystery. Each episode arrived with little information about what it was or where it was going. (The existence of its pint-size breakout star, Grogu, a.k.a. Baby Yoda, wasn’t even revealed until the end of the first episode.) Every installment dropped you into a new world, on a new adventure, without warning; it felt like watching a serial short before the main feature at an old-timey movie parlor.But “mystery” here doesn’t have to mean genre mystery. This was the case with “Mad Men,” whose creator, Matthew Weiner, has said, with justification, that it wouldn’t work released a full season at a time. Its artfully withholding storytelling and its willingness to drop the viewer in unexplained circumstances made watching feel like allowing yourself to be blindfolded and kidnapped once a week. (Of course, that hasn’t stopped bingers from mainlining it during the pandemic.)Bingeing, on the other hand, benefits certain kinds of immersive long-form TV that Netflix has gotten adept at: more straightforward mini-series, like “The Queen’s Gambit,” and the visual equivalent of page-turner novels, like “Bridgerton.” In some cases, a binge also helps gloss over weaknesses or repetitions that you might linger on with more time to dwell on them. (In general, I’m thinking of serial stories here; sitcoms, anthologies or procedurals with self-contained episodes feel less affected by the choice.)There are also business dimensions to the debate, in particular the argument that spreading a season over months can allow a show to build word of mouth and grow, whereas binge series just crash and recede, like a waves on an endless content ocean. But business and artistic choices are two different things.HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” for instance, might not have become the same mass phenomenon if it had dropped its seasons Netflix-style. But (unpopular opinion alert) it plays better as a binge. All those slow-rolling character arcs are clearer, the ending feels better foreshadowed — even Daenerys’s years wandering Essos don’t seem quite so interminable.“Game of Thrones” became a cultural phenomenon as a weekly show but might actually work better as a binge.HBO, via Associated PressNBC’s afterlife comedy “The Good Place,” likewise, always felt to me like a binge show trapped in weekly form, with the end of each episode igniting the story line of the next, in the chain-smoking fashion of so many Netflix shows.On the other hand, the first season of Amazon’s corporate mystery “Homecoming” might have built more suspense if it had been doled out over weeks. And on the other other hand, Apple TV+’s alternative space-race drama “For All Mankind,” a slow-burn of a series whose current season builds to two gripping final episodes, might have been better dropped all at once; I could see it losing viewers on the long, digressive journey before the payoff.Regardless, it’s good to see streaming platforms experimenting with their schedules; hopefully, they’re starting to see “To binge or not to binge?” as one creative choice among many. It made sense for Netflix to prove that the binge model could work, which unlocked a form of TV storytelling whose rules creators are still figuring out.But just because you can make TV a certain way now doesn’t mean you always should. Sometimes, good things come from those who make you wait.

‘Allen v. Farrow’ Episode 4 Recap: An Adult Dylan Farrow Speaks Out

The finale of the HBO docuseries delves into the changing perception of Woody Allen and Ms. Farrow’s decision to go public with her allegations of sexual abuse.The final installment of “Allen v. Farrow,” an HBO documentary series examining Dylan Farrow’s sexual abuse allegations against her adopted father, Woody Allen, covers the years from 1993, when a state’s attorney declined to prosecute the filmmaker, to the present.The previous three episodes explored what Ms. Farrow says happened on Aug. 4, 1992, when she was 7 years old — that her father sexually assaulted her in the attic of the family’s Connecticut country home. The filmmakers combed through police and court documents, scrutinized the integrity of the investigations into her accusation and sought expert analysis of video footage of young Dylan telling her mother what happened.Mr. Allen has long denied sexually abusing his daughter and has accused her mother, Mia Farrow — Mr. Allen’s ex-girlfriend — of concocting the sexual-assault accusation because she was angry at him for having a sexual relationship with her college-age daughter, Soon-Yi Previn. (Mr. Allen and Ms. Previn later married.) A spokesperson for Mr. Allen, who did not participate in the documentary, said that it is “riddled with falsehoods.”The finale covers the world’s reaction to the events of the early 1990s, Mr. Allen’s continued fame and accolades and, in recent years, a growing unwillingness among those in Hollywood to be associated with him after the #MeToo Movement.The prosecutor’s decisionThe episode begins on Sept. 24, 1993. That day, Frank Maco, a Connecticut state’s attorney, announced that although he had “probable cause” to prosecute Mr. Allen, he had decided he would not press charges to spare Ms. Farrow the potential trauma of a trial.Mr. Maco, who was interviewed extensively for the documentary, says that earlier that month in 1993, he had met with young Dylan in his office, with toys in the room and a female state trooper there. When Mr. Maco asked about her father, he said, she froze up and would not respond.“The strongest proponents for prosecution just looked at me, and we all shrugged our shoulders,” Mr. Maco said. “We weren’t going anywhere with this child.”In a news conference, Mr. Allen said that rather that being happy or grateful for the decision, he said he was “merely disgusted” that his children had been “made to suffer unbearably by the unwholesome alliance between a vindictive mother and a cowardly, dishonest, irresponsible state’s attorney and his police.”“I felt if I had just kept his secret,” Ms. Farrow says, “I could have spared my mom all this grief, and my brothers and sister — myself.”HBODylan grows upIn the years after the police investigation and the custody trial, which ended in her mother’s favor, Ms. Farrow says she suffered through a long period of guilt, thinking that she was at fault for the family rift.“I felt if I had just kept his secret,” she tells the filmmakers, “I could have spared my mom all this grief, and my brothers and sister — myself.”Siblings say in the series that Ms. Farrow often kept to herself and seemed riddled with anxiety. She says that she didn’t talk about the assault in depth with anyone — not even her mother or her therapist. In high school, she recalls, she broke up with her only boyfriend after only three weeks because she anticipated that he would want to be intimate with her.Ronan Farrow, Ms. Farrow’s brother, tells the filmmakers that his mother tried to distance her children from Mr. Allen. But, he says, “there was always a lot of incentive to be drawn into Woody Allen’s efforts to discredit” his sister. For example, Mr. Farrow says, Mr. Allen had made him an offer that if he spoke out against his mother and his sister publicly, Mr. Allen would help pay for his college education.After an awards showThe saga returned to the public discourse in 2014, after Mr. Allen received a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes. In the past, Mr. Farrow tells filmmakers, he had discouraged his sister from speaking publicly about their father and the events of the 1990s with the hope that the family could put it behind them.But after the awards show, Mr. Farrow tweeted, “Missed the Woody Allen tribute — did they put the part where a woman publicly confirmed he molested her at age 7 before or after Annie Hall?” Ms. Farrow says that her brother’s willingness to speak publicly about the subject emboldened her to write about her memory of events, which appeared in The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof’s blog. (Mr. Farrow, who helped his sister publish the open letter, said that after another newspaper declined to print the account, he took it to Mr. Kristof, a family friend.) Mr. Allen later published an Op-Ed in The Times denying his daughter’s allegations.For two decades, Ms. Farrow says, she felt isolated and alone because of her experience. After publishing her letter, she received an outpouring of messages from people she knew sharing their own experiences with sexual abuse.Loyalty to Mr. AllenStill, many Hollywood actors remained loyal to Mr. Allen despite the accusations, and his star power and industry reputation remained mostly intact..css-1xzcza9{list-style-type:disc;padding-inline-start:1em;}.css-rqynmc{font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-size:0.9375rem;line-height:1.25rem;color:#333;margin-bottom:0.78125rem;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-rqynmc{font-size:1.0625rem;line-height:1.5rem;margin-bottom:0.9375rem;}}.css-rqynmc strong{font-weight:600;}.css-rqynmc em{font-style:italic;}.css-yoay6m{margin:0 auto 5px;font-family:nyt-franklin,helvetica,arial,sans-serif;font-weight:700;font-size:1.125rem;line-height:1.3125rem;color:#121212;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-yoay6m{font-size:1.25rem;line-height:1.4375rem;}}.css-1dg6kl4{margin-top:5px;margin-bottom:15px;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}#masthead-bar-one{display:none;}.css-1pd7fgo{background-color:white;border:1px solid #e2e2e2;width:calc(100% – 40px);max-width:600px;margin:1.5rem auto 1.9rem;padding:15px;box-sizing:border-box;}@media (min-width:740px){.css-1pd7fgo{padding:20px;width:100%;}}.css-1pd7fgo:focus{outline:1px solid #e2e2e2;}#NYT_BELOW_MAIN_CONTENT_REGION .css-1pd7fgo{border:none;padding:20px 0 0;border-top:1px solid #121212;}.css-1pd7fgo[data-truncated] .css-rdoyk0{-webkit-transform:rotate(0deg);-ms-transform:rotate(0deg);transform:rotate(0deg);}.css-1pd7fgo[data-truncated] .css-eb027h{max-height:300px;overflow:hidden;-webkit-transition:none;transition:none;}.css-1pd7fgo[data-truncated] .css-5gimkt:after{content:’See more’;}.css-1pd7fgo[data-truncated] .css-6mllg9{opacity:1;}.css-coqf44{margin:0 auto;overflow:hidden;}.css-coqf44 strong{font-weight:700;}.css-coqf44 em{font-style:italic;}.css-coqf44 a{color:#326891;-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;text-underline-offset:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#ccd9e3;text-decoration-color:#ccd9e3;}.css-coqf44 a:visited{color:#333;-webkit-text-decoration-color:#333;text-decoration-color:#333;}.css-coqf44 a:hover{-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}Four days after Ms. Farrow’s letter was published, her brother Moses Farrow told People Magazine that she was never molested. He also said that Mia Farrow coached the children to hate Mr. Allen and that she often hit him as a child. When Dylan Farrow learned what her brother said, she burst into tears, saying, “It was like I had been told that this person that I knew and loved and trusted was gone.”In interviews with the filmmakers, Ronan Farrow along with two more siblings, Fletcher Previn and Daisy Previn, say that the abuse allegations against their mother were untrue.In 2018, Moses Farrow followed up with a blog post that continued to dispute his sister’s account of sexual abuse. He targeted a specific detail of her story, which she had included in The Times letter: that while Mr. Allen sexually assaulted her, she remembers focusing on her brother’s electric train set, which had been traveling in circles around the attic. Mr. Farrow said that there was no electric train set in the attic. In Mr. Allen’s recent memoir, “Apropos of Nothing,” he also disputed that detail, calling it a “fresh creative touch.”But, according to police documents, the detectives investigating the alleged assault did find a train set in the attic. A detailed drawing from 1992, which is shown in the episode, includes an object labeled “toy train track” in the attic crawl space.Ms. Farrow with her mother, Mia Farrow.HBODylan, decades laterThis episode captures Ms. Farrow’s adult life, 28 years after she says her father assaulted her. It shows her husband, Sean, whom she met on a dating site linked to The Onion, and Ms. Farrow, now 35, playing with their young daughter.At one point, Mia Farrow asks her daughter, “Do you ever feel angry at me?” referring to her choice to bring Mr. Allen into the family. In response, Dylan Farrow says that, first and foremost, she was glad that her mother believed her account of that day in 1992, saying, “You were there when it mattered.”Another scene in the episode shows Mr. Maco, the state’s attorney, meeting with Ms. Farrow — their first encounter since 1993.Mr. Maco said that he told Mia Farrow that when her daughter becomes an adult, he would be happy to answer any questions. That opportunity came last fall — and the documentary team recorded their conversation.“A part of me really, really wishes that I could have done it,” Dylan Farrow tells Mr. Maco, “that I could have had my day in court.”

In ‘Genius: Aretha,’ Respecting the Mind, Not Just the Soul

When she started preparing for the National Geographic series “Genius: Aretha,” the showrunner Suzan-Lori Parks did what one often does before tackling a biographical project: She crammed. Her approach was a little unusual, though.“I spent months and months reading about what she said, and also noting what she didn’t say,” Parks said of the singer, songwriter and activist Aretha Franklin in a video conversation last month. “Jazz musicians will remind us that the music isn’t just the notes, it’s the stuff between the notes, the silences.”And there were plenty of both during Franklin’s extraordinary life — the focus of the third season of “Genius,” which premieres on March 21 with the British actress and singer Cynthia Erivo in the title role. For Parks, that presented both an opportunity and a challenge: Franklin tried hard to control her public persona, which didn’t seem to be a huge priority for the subjects of the two previous seasons of “Genius,” Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso, whose sometimes less-than-stellar behavior might have even enhanced their mystique.But for Franklin, a Black woman who rose to superstardom amid the Civil Rights conflagrations of the 1960s, the stakes were different.“I think she very much wanted to be seen in a certain way,” said Parks. “As Black American people, we are very aware of our marketability, and as Black American artists, we are maybe even more aware of our marketability.”“My challenge,” she added, “was: ‘How do I tell the truth about this Black American woman who is a brilliant icon? And how do I tell the truth and be respectful?’”There was certainly a wealth of material, given Franklin’s decades in the spotlight as one of the world’s most famous singers. Franklin made her first album at 14, signed with Columbia Records at 18 and went on to record and perform well into her 70s, earning 18 competitive Grammies, a National Medal of Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. By the time she died in 2018, at age 76, she had sold tens of millions records, scored 20 No. 1 R&B hits and was the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.Erivo, who won a Tony, Grammy and Daytime Emmy for her role in the musical version of “The Color Purple,” was tasked not only with portraying the woman whose undisputed nickname was “the Queen of Soul” but also with singing like her — Erivo performed the vocals for Franklin’s tracks. She tried to look at the bigger picture.Erivo, an accomplished singer and songwriter, worked with a vocal coach to capture Franklin’s essence in the studio and onstage. Richard DuCree/National Geographic“I was more interested in telling the story as truthfully as I possibly could, as opposed to mimicking,” Erivo said in a video call last month — though her interpretations are eerily spot on, too.“I would want to know: ‘Where are we right now? What is this coming out of or what are we going into? What is the feeling here?’” she added. Erivo and a vocal coach would begin by trying to zoom in on the finer details of Franklin’s technical virtuosity and her subtle emotional inflections.“Then you let it go,” Erivo continued. “No one wants to watch someone singing analytically. No one wants to watch someone doing the notes. You learn them, you understand them, and then you let that go so that there’s a freedom for it to just move through you.”For Parks, zeroing in on truth in a series called “Genius” began with reflections on the meaning of the word and what it implies. She has, herself, been given that label, having received a MacArthur Fellowship — known as the “genius award” — for her playwriting. She was the first Black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama, for “Topdog/Underdog,” and she recently penned the screenplay for the film “The United States vs. Billie Holiday.”Doing the series was an opportunity, she said, “to talk about Aretha Franklin’s genius, specifically, and what Black female genius might look like.” One important aspect was Franklin’s ability to build bridges, particularly during the Civil Rights era, often alongside Martin Luther King Jr., played by Ethan Henry. (King is the subject of the next season of “Genius.”)Another, which Parks contended was among Franklin’s most distinctive achievements, was the way she “alchemized her pain into sonic gold.”Parks said she drew from “mountains of research” to depict the biographical elements for that alchemy, toggling between Franklin’s adult life and her adolescent past. Central to the story is Franklin’s father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin (Courtney B. Vance), with whom the young Aretha (played by Shaian Jordan) had a close but complex relationship. The leader of the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, C.L. was a celebrity in his own right and segued smoothly from indulging in earthly delights on Saturdays to preaching heavenly sermons on Sundays.Courtney B. Vance plays Franklin’s father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, a man of enormous charisma and many contradictions.Richard DuCree/National GeographicAretha was 6 when her mother, a gospel singer and pianist, left C.L. because of his infidelities. (She died four years later.) Left in charge, C.L. cultivated his daughter’s talent and began taking her on rowdy gospel tours from age 12. The reverend could be domineering, but he loved his daughter, whom he affectionately called Little Re, and was supportive; in the series, he surrounds her with enviable role models, including the singer Dinah Washington and the jazz pianist Art Tatum.Still, life as a charismatic preacher’s daughter on the road could be fraught. Little Re had two of her four sons by the time she was 15.“I think I would be a mess if I had a child whilst doing all the things I’m doing right now,” said Erivo. “I don’t know how she did that, because I don’t believe she was ever half-doing anything.”The series doesn’t shy from less savory details of Franklin’s biography, including difficult relationships and the impact her ambitions sometimes had on loved ones. Her first husband and early manager, Ted White (Malcolm Barrett), is portrayed as petty, incompetent and physically abusive. Her sister Carolyn (Rebecca Naomi Jones), another gifted songwriter and performer, gets into a bitter dispute with Aretha after Aretha snatches away some promising material.Getting to the bottom of Franklin’s life has often proved difficult. She left so much out of her autobiography, “From These Roots,” that a frustrated David Ritz, who had been hired to help write it, went on to pen the much more detailed and revealing biography “Respect.” She condemned it as “a very trashy book.” A similarly contentious episode involving a Time cover story is enacted in the show: When the article is published, she feels betrayed by both the journalist and his sources — including her own husband.Aretha Franklin in 2015 at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, singing at a memorial service for her father and brother Cecil, who were ministers there.Elizabeth Conley/Detroit News, via Associated PressAttempts to put Franklin onscreen have been knotty, as well. Franklin sued multiple times to block the release of the Sydney Pollack documentary “Amazing Grace,” which chronicled the recording of her electrifying double-platinum 1972 gospel album of the same name before a live audience at a Baptist church in Los Angeles. (Asked after its wide theatrical release in 2019 why he thought Aretha disliked the film, Chuck Rainey, the bassist on “Amazing Grace,” said he believed the film was too focused on style and the celebrities in the audience, including her father and the singer Clara Ward. “It was like she was wallpaper,” he said.)A public and continuing feud among Franklin’s heirs has continued to muddy the waters since her death. Earlier this year, her son Kecalf Franklin said on Instagram that “Genius” did not have the family’s support. (He has similarly attacked MGM for its long-delayed biopic, “Respect,” scheduled for August, for which Aretha handpicked Jennifer Hudson to star.)However, Brian Grazer, an executive producer of “Genius,” said that before filming started, the production received the endorsement of Aretha Franklin’s estate through its trustee at the time, Sabrina Owens, the singer’s niece. “We had the estate 100 percent on board, and the trustee to the estate granted us this,” he said. (Owens, who resigned as trustee last year, referred queries to the current lawyer for the estate, who did not reply to multiple requests for comment.)Through it all, however, there is the music, which is the central, and perhaps most memorable element of the series — appropriately, given Franklin’s supersized influence on modern music.“She was able to redeploy the melisma by giving us these testimonies about Black womanhood, about Black humanity within the context of the soul-music genre,” said Daphne A. Brooks, the author of “Liner Notes for the Revolution: The Intellectual Life of Black Feminist Sound” and a professor of African-American studies at Yale. “It transformed the pop-music landscape: We now have a kind of standard form of pop singing that comes from Aretha Franklin.”As such, many of the most illuminating scenes in “Genius” deal not with Franklin’s private life but with the way the often shy, soft-spoken musician shaped her own work.Aretha Franklin’s drive sometimes created tension with loved ones, including her sister Carolyn (played by Rebecca Naomi Jones, left, with Erivo, Patrice Covington and Erika Jerry).Richard DuCree/National Geographic“When you start getting to know what it takes to make a hit song, to be in a recording studio, to work with musicians who, in the case of Muscle Shoals, are all white men in 1967 — that is a huge, brilliant triumph for her,” Parks said.The full scale of Franklin’s contributions to her own music has long been obscured. She was a gifted songwriter and a superb pianist. In the studio, she was a taskmaster, pushing herself and her collaborators until they captured the exact sound she heard in her head — not easy for a Black female musician of her time. In the series, we see her have to ask to be credited as a producer on her biggest-selling album, “Amazing Grace,” the making of which is given an entire episode.“I knew right when I started this project that that was going to be the place where the magic happened,” Parks said. “The story of ‘Amazing Grace’ revolves around something that is, again, not said. Watching the documentary, which is beautiful, I wanted to know the story behind it.”“Amazing Grace” is pure gospel, which was Franklin’s emotional and spiritual anchor. But the show also demonstrates her uncommon fluency in most dominant genres of her time, including jazz, blues, Tin Pan Alley, funk and pop — “Aretha is Black, female, American,” Parks said, laughing. In her music, as in her activism, Franklin tried to reach as many people as possible. It clearly worked.“This is the stuff, in my opinion, of Black female genius,” Parks said. “She brought people together for the greater good.”

Can the Makers of ‘Money Heist’ Mint Another Hit With ‘Sky Rojo’?

Álex Pina is back with another glitzy, over-the-top Spanish thriller for Netflix. This time, he and his creative partner say, the story is even leaner and the excess is even more over-the-top.The new Spanish-language action series “Sky Rojo” is sheer excess.The plot is simultaneously minimal and over the top: Three prostitutes are on the run, their vengeful pimp is after them.“What do we want to be, hares or foxes?” one of the women asks her friends. “Foxes all the way” is the answer. And so goes the show itself. The action is nonstop, the ultra-vivid colors jump from the screen, the tonal shifts induce whiplash, and the soundtrack will fry your speakers.The only thing that is restrained about “Sky Rojo,” the first season of which dropped Friday on Netflix, is its running time: Each of the eight episodes clocks in well under 30 minutes.“We have an audience that is becoming more and more demanding, so you have to give them the tenderloin — no sides, no French fries, no salad,” said the Madrid-based writer and producer Álex Pina, who created the show with his professional and personal partner, Esther Martínez Lobato. “They understand more with less so you must go to the essentials.”Pina, 53, certainly knows about serving up meals people love to devour: He created “Money Heist,” which was Netflix’s most popular non-English-language series until the French heist drama “Lupin” passed it earlier this year. Martínez Lobato, 44, is a writer on the show, which is currently in production on its fifth and final season.From left, Lali Esposito, Verónica Sánchez and Yany Prado play three prostitutes on the run in the ultra-vivid new action series “Sky Rojo.” Tamara Arranz/Netflix“Money Heist,” is just one of the creators’ high-profile series — a growing list that has extended their reach well beyond the Spanish border.It has been a hectic pace: “We are so tired,” Martínez Lobato said dryly.The couple met about 15 years ago, when Martinez Lobato joined the writing staff of “Los Hombres de Paco,” a cop show Pina had cocreated. Initially working with the Spanish giant Globomedia, they eventually set out on their own; Pina founded the production company Vancouver Media in 2016. In addition to writing, Martínez Lobato is an executive producer on most of the company’s productions.“Alex wanted to create his own company and not be bound or stuck by any kind of network, so we created Vancouver Media with just him, myself and two other colleagues,” Martínez Lobato, 44, said in a video chat. (The couple were interviewed separately from their office in Madrid, each through an interpreter.)Since its founding, Vancouver Media has cranked out the nutty melodrama “The Pier,” about two women connected by a mutual (dead) lover; the drugs-and-murder thriller “White Lines,” set on the party-happy island of Ibiza; and “Money Heist.” This output is all the more impressive given the tight creative control the couple maintains over each show, from conception to editing.For “Sky Rojo” (which is set on another Spanish island, Tenerife), Pina and Martínez Lobato were keen to challenge themselves even further.“We wanted to show a constant third act — all action, all the time,” Martínez Lobato said. “You take away any sequence or dialogue that is not absolutely necessary for the plot and you only use what’s extremely important and fast-paced. It is hectic and completely different from what we’re used to doing, but very stimulating.”Pina and Esther Martínez Lobato designed “Sky Rojo” to have a breakneck pace from start to finish. “We wanted to show a constant third act,” Martínez Lobato said. “All action, all the time.” Gianfranco Tripodo for The New York TimesThe central female trio is an international conglomerate of sorts made up of the Argentine singer-actress Lali Espósito; Yany Prado, from Cuba; and Verónica Sánchez, from Spain. Sánchez, who played one of the leads in “The Pier,” thought she was used to Vancouver’s fast and furious pace, but Pina gave her a heads-up when he offered the role of Coral.“Alex came to me and said, ‘You will be a woman who is running away from a brothel where she has been held captive, and it’s action-packed so get in shape’ — he meant in terms of physicality and getting ready to fight,” Sánchez, 43, said through an interpreter. “When I received the script, I saw that the character was even crazier than I had thought.”The self-possessed Coral, for example, starts off addicted to the powerful anesthetic propofol, which she gets through a client who is a veterinarian. No wonder Sanchez said she drank the highly caffeinated South American drink maté on the shoot every day — a fitting beverage for a show in which each episode feels like a shot of espresso.Vancouver’s brassy approach may not be to everybody’s taste. But the distinctiveness of its productions, with their eclectic set lists, high-resolution cinematography and flamboyant plot twists, is undeniable. It all amounts to an aesthetic that the couple is happy to claim as Spanish.“We’ve always had the same gaze from the United States in terms of fiction because they’ve been the main producers, but thanks to streaming platforms we can give a different perspective and a different spirit to any kind of genre,” Pina said. “What is local is perceived as exotic, in a good way, and people can appreciate it.”Úrsula Corberó in “Money Heist,” Netflix’s most popular non-English-language series to date.NetflixWith “Money Heist,” that appreciation reached a whole new scale — the show has become an international pop culture phenomenon. The fourth installment, which debuted in April 2020, reached Netflix’s overall Top 10 (which includes series and movies) in 51 countries. It reached the series Top 10 in 62. Halloween costumes have surfaced. The rapper Bad Bunny name-checked the character Nairobi (played by Alba Flores) in his song “Yo Perreo Sola.”Some of the stars have become social-media royalty: Úrsula Corberó, who plays Tokyo, jumped from 600,000 Instagram followers in December 2017 to nearly 21 million now; Miguel Herrán, who plays Rio, jumped from 50,000 to 13.6 million.This extra attention brought extra pressure to conclude the series in a satisfying manner. With restrictions over Covid-19 slowing down operations, Pina and Martínez Lobato were able to finally finish tweaking Season 5 of “Money Heist.” The thorny finale took 33 drafts.“We are finally happy with the current version,” Pina said.The delays also benefited “Sky Rojo,” whose two seasons were shot together. The show is a sensory overload that sometimes feels as if Quentin Tarantino were directing a long-form video for Versace: flashy, outrageous, punctuated by well-curated songs — another Vancouver signature. A highlight of “White Lines,” for example, was a mass orgy set to a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep”; in “Sky Rojo,” it’s a mordantly sarcastic use of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day.”At the same time, there was a real danger that all this glitziness could backfire given the new show’s premise, which, after all, is about women trying to escape sexual exploitation. The two creators were well aware that they were on treacherous ground but the delays proved providential.“The tone is very tricky,” Pina said. “Having time helped us rewrite all the sequences — you can sound pretentious on the drama side, and you can go to the other extreme, which is trivializing a very important subject matter.”For Sánchez, the show is a brilliant Trojan horse.“You always find this kind of message in social cinema and documentaries that not everybody is willing to watch,” she said. “But a series from the creators of ‘Money Heist,’ everyone is going to watch it.”