From the latest feature on Variety, many directors in Hollywood have all too great a challenge coming up with something new that audiences will pay to see. For Jordan Peele, director of 2017’s Get Out, he hit a home run with his directorial debut achieving critical acclaim and commercial success that earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Now, Peele has his eyes on all new projects with his production company, Monkeypaw Productions, that includes Lovecraft Country at HBO and The Twilight Zone to be streamed on CBS All Access.
Win Rosenfeld, who has worked professionally with Peele for many years, said of Monkeypaw Prods., “Our films and our TV shows are the underdog turning into a bad-ass. That’s the root of it. We’ll start with a normal person who’s dealing with the actual evils of the real world. Then when the monster comes in, it’s really potent, because killing the monster is cathartic for that character.”
There will be such monsters in Lovecraft Country, a story of African-Americans in the 1950’s Jim Crow South who encounter creatures from author H.P. Lovecraft’s cosmic horror novels. Peele is executive producing the series with J.J. Abrams, Misha Green and Ben Stephenson.
Peele presented the project to Abrams just before Get Out became an awards sensation.
“This was before he became Jordan Peele the phenomenon,” Abrams said. “He was just Jordan Peele the insanely talented comedian and storyteller. What I loved about it, and what when I saw Get Out I was blown away by, was that he was doing what Rod Serling did, which is take stories of race and class and politics and fundamental human strife and tell them through genre.”
Serling is another key inspiration for Peele. Of all his television projects, Peele said he was most reluctant to take on The Twilight Zone revival.
“I was terrified,” Peele said. “Why would I ever jump into the most established, pristine shoes in all of the genre? I could rip Twilight Zone off and call it something different and not be compared to Rod Serling. So I stepped away from it. And then several months later I got another call.”
The call in reference came from Simon Kinberg, who for years had been linked to a reboot stuck in development hell at CBS Television Studios. Peele agreed to meet and the two helped grow each other’s enthusiasm for bringing back a show that frequently tops lists of the greatest in TV history. Also, whose one-hour anthology style is largely out of fashion in the era of serialized television, except for Netflix’s Black Mirror, that has become the modern standard-bearer for Twilight Zone-style storytelling.
“The realization, for me,” Peele said, “was that it was an opportunity to attempt to continue with Serling’s mission. If we approach it without ego and sort of bow to Serling, that will hopefully suffice for our fellow fans but also bring back a show that I think is needed right now. Because it’s a show that has always helped us look at ourselves, hold a mirror up to society.”
On the possibility of stepping into Serling’s on-camera presenter role for the new series, Peele said he has resisted, but it’s not been ruled out. The new series will have someone in that job, speaking directly into camera, teeing up each episode. But Peele said he worries that his face is too associated with comedy, that his presence would undermine the serious work he’s putting in to do right by Serling’s legacy.
Serling had used entertainment to get at real-world horrors and created something unique in the process. Peele said he tries to accomplish the same in everything he does; he’s doing a lot and he wants more.
“We can make projects that take courage to produce,” he said. “When we can give companies a bit of the courage to do something new, something special, something bold and novel can really come from it.”