Underground: WGN America's Slavery Drama Dives Into a 'Desperate, Dangerous Atmosphere'

Aubry D'Arminio
Aldis Hodge, Jurnee Smollett-Bell
Sony Pictures Television

It’s hard to believe it’s taken this long to make a proper TV drama about the Underground Railroad. Not that anything is proper in WGN America’s new series Underground, with its beat-heavy modern soundtrack, unrelenting violence and bodice ripping. “We wanted to push it,” cocreator Joe Pokaski says. “There were arguments about the language we could use, how graphic we could be. But it was a rough time [in history]. And we wanted to show that.”

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Aldis Hodge stars as Noah, a slave in 1850s Georgia who stumbles upon an escape plan up the Chattahoochee River into Northern territory. Aware he can’t make the 600-mile trip alone, he recruits other slaves, including plantation preacher Moses (Mykelti Williamson) and a house slave, Rosalee (Jurnee Smollett-Bell). The details of their arduous journey are based on narratives Pokaski and cocreator Misha Green found in the Library of Congress.

“Researching this, we realized truth is stranger than fiction,” Green says. “You can’t believe the ingenuity they used to escape. It was a desperate, dangerous atmosphere that created desperate, dangerous people.”

Underground, Premieres Wednesday, March 9, WGN America, Time TBD