Ignore its placement on a non-HBO or AMC network, WGN America’s Underground is as worthy of Emmy attention as any other network dramatic series.
Near the end of the second episode of WGN’s drama Underground, the demure house slave Rosalee (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) says to the blacksmith Noah (Aldis Hodge) that she has realized why he chooses to get tattoos over the whip scars on his back, adding pain on top of pain.
“It’s about not lettin’ the white folks define your story… it’s about making it your own.”
This line is, in many ways, the thesis of Underground, which takes the form of a story about slavery but refuses to be constrained by the clichés of the setting. With energy and style, showrunners Misha Green and Joe Pokaski structure their story of a group of runaway slaves as something like a heist narrative with twists and secrets that turn what could have been a depressing story of suffering into an electrifying tale of adventure and survival. Like Noah’s tattoos, Underground doesn’t tone down or disguise the pain of slavery but reclaims and reinvents it into something new and powerful.