Underground: Season Two DVD Review

  • Actors: Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Aldis Hodge, Jessica De Gouw, Alano Miller, Christopher Meloni
  • Producer: Mark McNair
  • Format: AC-3, Box set, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: French, English
  • Region: Region 1
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
  • Number of discs: 3
  • Rated: Not Rated
  • Studio: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: July 11, 2017
  • Run Time: 470 minutes

        Following the success of several other historical television series, including the American Revolution-based “Turn,” a series about the Underground Railroad seemed a sure-fire hit. And it was, to a certain degree, but that wasn’t enough to keep it from being cancelled. Fans pointed at the cancellation of Netflix’s “The Get Down” around the same time as reason to believe that the black narrative was a deciding reason for the cancellation, but there are many other factors that must be considered. Just as “Turn” was cancelled, “Underground” was popular with fans and had decent reviews, but the high production costs were too much to warrant continuing. When Sinclair Broadcast Group bought WGNA’s parent company earlier this year, they canceled several of the channel’s most successful shows, including their biggest hit, “Outsiders.” “Underground” was another unfortunate casualty, though there have been rumors that it may find a home at another network.

        If it were to come back for a third season, there is a clear path set out for the series, as it began to align with actual historical events and characters in this second season. While the first season merely set up the series with fictional characters on a southern plantation that could represent any during that time, season two begins to integrate the real history of the Underground Railroad and its creators. Although the show mostly focuses on a central romance between a field slave named Noah (Aldis Hodge) and house slave Rosalee (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and their efforts to escape to freedom, we are introduced to Harriet Tubman (Aisha Hinds) at the end of season one.

        Season two integrates many of the characters from the first season into the lives of historical figures, with Tubman at the forefront as the leader of the Underground Railroad. Even when many of the characters from the first season have little interaction with each other, they are all tied together by Tubman and the actual historical events that eventually led to the Civil War. If a third season were to happen, there is no doubt that it would focus on John Brown and his raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, and season two even features a brief cameo by series producer John Legend as Frederick Douglass.

        If the historical events and figures are a highlight of the series, some of the melodrama from the fictional ones can be its downfall. There are rivalries and villains that return from the first season which take an exorbitant amount of the show’s time, often dragging out storylines that overstayed their welcome in the first season. Among these is the return of August Pullman (Christopher Meloni) and ruthless tracker who spent much of season one hunting down Rosalee and Noah after they had escaped their plantation, even though his character had already been replaced by an even crueler tracker named Patty Cannon (Sadie Stratton). Meloni is a compelling actor to watch, but it feels as though the show is uncertain what to do with his character this season.

        As much as the show often seems unable to let go of characters that don’t move the narrative forward in any relevant manner, it is also unafraid to abruptly kill off ones that seem far more significant. I won’t spoil any of season two’s surprises, but they feel even more impactful after spending a full season with the characters. Like with any series, there are characters which are more interesting than others, and episodes that move the story along as well as those that just drag out the narrative. Interestingly enough, some of the most successful episodes of season two are the ones that aren’t afraid to slow down the action. There is a standalone episode with Harriet Tubman simply telling her story. It is simplistic and takes place all in one location in real time, using only dialogue. Not only does it provide a compelling history lesson from Tubman herself, but there are obvious correlations between history and current affairs made. Any doubts about the intention of the writing in this episode disappears when Tubman remarks on the fallacy of the southern efforts to “make America great” while practically looking directly into the camera to address our current president and his supporters.

        As many successful elements as there are in “Underground,” aspects of the show have also created some mixed reactions. The biggest of these is the music choices for the series, integrating modern hip-hop and contemporary R&B into the soundtrack. There are times that this works quite well, but it can also be quite jarring initially. And then there are times that it is flat out distracting, taking away from the realism of the factually accurate events. The music choices were enough to turn some viewers off from the show entirely. While it may not be bad enough to dismiss the show completely, it rarely elevates it in a way that justifies this bold decision. The criticisms must have been heard after the first season, because these musical interruptions seem far subtler in this second season.

        As with the first season, the second includes ten episodes, all of which are included in this three disc set. The special features include deleted scenes and a gag reel, none of which are entirely necessary. A featurette on the historical accuracy of the show would have been fitting and greatly appreciated.

Entertainment Value: 7/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 7.5/10
Historical Significance:  7/10
Special Features: 3/10

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