Originally filed Monday, August 6, 2018 by RODNEY HOfirstname.lastname@example.org on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
Fraternal orders such as the Freemasons and the Elks have been around for ages but nowadays are aging and dying off.
So it’s no small feat that executive producers Jim Gavin and Peter Ocko were able to convince AMC - home to high-concept dramas such as “The Walking Dead,” “Preacher” and “Into the Badlands” - to give a series about a fictional so-called secret “Lynx” society set in Long Beach, Calif. a whirl.
Called “Lodge 49,” the 10-episode series debuts at 10 p.m. on AMC August 6 and all 10 episodes are available on AMC Premiere, an upgrade option for Comcast Xfinity and YouTube TV subscribers for an extra$4.99 per month. It was shot largely in metro Atlanta.
“Films and TV shows have generally been more interested in the sinister aspects of these groups,” said Gavin. “I don’t care about that. It’s not historically true. I’m more interested in a person who sells toilets by day but becomes a ‘Luminous Knight’ at night. It’s a way to add meaning and grandeur to the day-to-day grind.”
The show opens with Sean “Dud” Dudley (Kurt Russell’s son Wyatt) and twin sister Liz (Sonya Cassidy) grappling with the mysterious death of their dad.
Dud is a happy-go-lucky surfer injured by a snakebite and dirt broke. He stumbles into the lodge, where he becomes enraptured by its history and inner workings along with its quirky cast of characters also struggling to figure life out.
“It’s possible to touch the sublime!” says an invigorated Dud at his father’s memorial service.
Working below her mental grade at a Hooters-like establishment, Liz is skating along life in a haze of darkness -at least when she’s sober. She sees Dud’s lodge obsession as nonsense. “She’s the Scully to Dud’s Mulder,” cracks Ocko. “But she has her own internal lunacy.”
Dud strikes an unlikely friendship with future lodge leader Ernie.
“We’re connected in ways we don’t even know yet,” Dud tells Ernie at one point.
But Ernie is no savior. He’s barely making a mark at work selling plumbing parts. While he’s not as broke as Dud, he’s pretty darn close. And he pines for a relationship with married Lodge member and former high school squeeze Connie. “I’m running out of Saturdays and I want to spend the rest of them with you,” he pleads with her at one point.
Actor Brent Jennings plays Ernie with a mixture of sad desperation and sweet melancholy.
He’s the “underdog who hasn’t gotten his due,” Gavin said.
Ernie and Dud “are both adrift,” Jennings said. “When Dud knocks on the door, I see me years earlier.”
The lodge, Jennings adds, “is a resting place, a rejuvenating place. Everyone is searching for something to hold onto. It turns out to be they’re really holding onto each other.”
The occasional surreal moment pops up including imaginary seals, crashing birds and a worm coming out of a character’s nose.
Gavin says behind the weirdness and the layoffs lays an undeniable optimism. “It’s not naive optimism,” he says. “These people go through a lot but optimism is meaningless without suffering. They don’t have huge ambitions either.”
“These are the least aspirational people on TV,” Ocko added. “They have modest goals but even those can be difficult to achieve.”
At the same time, “I think ‘Lodge 49’ encourages you to see magic in the world you might not otherwise see on a day-to-day basis.”
The show references alchemy, which might be analogous to the series itself. Perhaps AMC can draw viewers to an oddball show with no obvious draw and transform it into ratings gold.
“There’s no antagonist,” Jennings noted. “Who do you say the villain is? There is no villain. It’s really about the complexity of human beings.”
Ocko notes that “these people care about each other. It’s not a universe where people will suddenly turn into monsters.” Or zombies. That’s another AMC show.
And he joked: “It’s a palate cleanser and respite before you go back to the hard work of watching all those other shows you have to watch.”
At least critics largely like the show (a passable 69 out of 100 on Metacritic), which can’t hurt.
“Where’s the hit man? The crime boss? The heist?” asks Hank Stuever of The Washington Post. “That’s where most shows take their weirdness; we’ve been trained to expect a bigger hook. ‘Lodge 49,’ on the other hand, remains utterly human in scope and ambition--funny and meandering.”
Ocko, who has executive produced shows ranging from “The Office” to “Elementary” to “Black Sails,” liked how the scripts made him feel. “The script seemed to acknowledge the disappearance of the middle class without outright saying it,” he said. “And it was a way to tell a fable without putting that on the surface. These are people who live in the real world but there’s this lore of the Kingdom of Long Beach. We’re excited to tell a story that has a foot in both places.”
AMC used the same crew and space as its prior series “Halt & Catch Fire,” which was based in Norcross. The producers said the crew literally didn’t have a weekend off between the two series.
The beach scenes were shot on Long Beach but a bulk of the show’s interiors and some of the exteriors were shot in metro Atlanta. The legerdemain is impressive: you’d be hard pressed to identify the city in any way. The producers cleverly use lighting to create that super bright California look and special effects to wipe away local trees from the skyline and add palm trees instead.
“We’re trying to capture a certain dusty southern California,” Ocko said. “The light is fairly distinct. Even the interiors fo the lodge has a tinge of that.”
And unlike most TV shows shot here, AMC largely used Atlanta folks to do post-production work. Crafty Apes, which has 50 of its 90 employees in Atlanta and has worked on films such as “La La Land” to “Hidden Figures,” helped ensure the Atlanta-based scenes looked like Long Beach. And Atlanta-based Moonshine Post Productions provided data management for the producers.
AMC saved money via the tax credits and the producers were able to do more than they otherwise could have, said Drew Sawyer, a Moonshine partner.
“We had so much fun in the production of this show,” Sawyer said. “We were able to add things to make it more ridiculous but also funny. It’ll be interesting to see how people take it.”
“Lodge 49,” debuting at 10 p.m. on Monday, August 6, AMC