Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Flash races back on the air, plus Allison Tolman on Emergence and her Stephen King fandom

Grant Gustin, Allison Tolman
Photo: Jack Rowand (The CW), Giovanni Rufino (ABC)

Here’s what’s happening in the world of television for Tuesday, October 8. All times are Eastern. 


Top pick

The Flash (The CW, 8 p.m., sixth season premiere): Remember when The Flash was the fun one? To be fair to Barry and company, the Arrowverse as a whole seems to be gearing up for Crisis On Infinite Earths, which seems likely to bring a lot of death with it, so you can hardly blame the folks at S.T.A.R. Labs from feeling a little doom-ish, nor fault this trailer for conveying that mood.

And since Cisco is still here and a new Harrison Wells is arriving, there’s the promise of at least some levity. There is also the promise of Scott Von Doviak’s recap, always a good thing to have. And last but not least, there is the promise of the Crisis itself, which may not begin until December, but which promises loads of fun stunt casting and Brandon Routh in both Legends Of Tomorrow and Superman mode, so we can’t really complain.

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Regular coverage

This Is Us (NBC, 9 p.m.)

Wild card

Emergence (ABC, 10p.m.): We continue to be intrigued by this ABC drama, which blends elements of family dramas, sci-fi shows, thrillers, and more into its own particular thing. That’s all very well and good, but if we’re honest, what we’re most excited about is the cast—and its lead in particular.

We spoke with Allison Tolman during the 2019 Television Critics Association summer press tour about what drew her to the show, why she loves twist endings, and the power of Jessica Fletcher.

The A.V. Club: So we’re really excited about this show—

Allison Tolman: Oh, good! So am I. It is exactly the type of show that I watch. A little bit of a thriller, a little bit of a lot of things.

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AVC: Well, let’s talk about that then. What other shows, or books, or movies in this realm do you really love?

AT: Well, in terms of the books I read, I really like a mystery. I feel like I came by sci-fi kind of late—I feel like the Battlestar Galactica reboot was my first time saying, “Oh, I think I’m a sci-fi girl, I think I like sci-fi, I didn’t know!” But I’ve liked horror and I’ve liked thrillers since forever. I think we’re really having success in serializing [those genres], which is incredible. When they first started doing like horror TV shows it was like, “How is that going to work?” And now there are really successful examples of that.

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AVC: And Emergence is an example of that?

AT: I think that for us, the key is that we don’t have a super long season, and we have a set season, so we have 13 episodes [in the first season], and that’s that. You can’t build a mystery and then have the network say, “So we’re going to order nine more episodes,” because the story falls apart if you have to stretch things out that long. I forgot your original question!

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AVC: It was about what thrillers and mysteries and things you love.

AT: Yeah, so some great examples. There’s this writer, I love her books. Her name is Tana French. She writes a lot of spooky investigative stories, murder mysteries with a spooky bent on them. I just love her. And I love twist endings, anything with a twist. I’ve been an M. Night fan forever. I’m a die-hard fan. Even his bad ones, I’m like, “Absolutely. Go for it.” I just love the twist. I think an ending that seems surprising and inevitable at the same time is such an elusive thing to find, and when you find a good one as a viewer or a reader, it’s—there’s no feeling like that,.

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AVC: So does that mean we should expect some cool Emergence twists?

AT: There are so many twists, and the twists that I thought would be season-long twists are—we’re already reading scripts about those. So it’s going a lot faster than I thought that it was going to, and faster than I think a lot of shows in genre go. It’s unfolding really quickly. The world is this little town, and then this thing happens and the world gets a little bit bigger, then this thing happens and it’s a little bit bigger. Then by the end of the season, we’re like, “Whoa! This goes all the way to the top.” We’re doing a really good job of sort of reframing things as the episodes progress.

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AVC: It feels very Stephen King in that way—character driven, a real sense of place, it feels small and like it should be sleepy, but it just keeps getting weirder.

AT: I hadn’t thought of it that way, but you’re so right. And that’s such a compliment. I think he’s, like, the greatest storyteller of our age. We’ve talked a lot about Amblin movies, that kind of cozy family thing, like Close Encounters. A sort of cozy sort of center to an insane story. The way that our show is built is that it’s this thriller, this sci-fi thriller, with a family at the center of it. And my favorite type of thriller is a thriller about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. I think it’s the most fun to watch. I love it all, but that’s my favorite.

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AVC: What drives Jo throughout this season?

AT: I think Jo takes her duties as an officer of the law really seriously. I think that she believes in her mission to protect and serve her town and people who live in it. And that is really an interesting twist, because she takes in this child who needs protection and needs someone to help her, and as the season starts to unfold and this kid becomes more and more mysterious and more and more dangerous, the question becomes, “Can she protect this kid and protect her town at the same time?”

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Jo is driven by a sense of decency and duty, and she’s also a parent. She’s a mother herself. There’s a part of her that’s thinks, “This kid needs somebody, and I’m the only somebody around,” you know?

AVC: One thing that’s so compelling about your performance is it feels like she shuts doors to focus on one thing, but you can tell that the doors are still there.

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AT: I think that she has to be able to do that, because she’s a highly functioning, very capable woman. And I think the only way to play a character who is able to handle herself, whatever comes her way, in these extreme situations, is to know that she’s compartmentalizing certain parts of her life. I think that’s how Jo operates. She puts some blinders on and focuses on the thing that’s right in front of her, and that’s how she’s able to do what she does. In Fargo I played a police officer who was sort of learning how to investigate, and learning how to solve a mystery throughout the series, and kind of getting her confidence up. The interesting thing about Jo is that she’s a police officer who has this wealth of investigative skills, and has all of these capabilities, and all of this promise that’s never been tested. She’s never needed to use it. And then all of a sudden she’s dropped into the situation where it’s like, “Well, can you play in the big leagues? Can you really, really operate on another level?” And she’s like, “Yeah man, I guess so, if you need me to.” I love her. I just am a big fan.

AVC: Who’s your favorite TV detective of all time?

AT: Jessica Fletcher, 100 percent. I grew up watching that show with my family. We didn’t watch TV separately. We watched TV together. So everything we watched was a family show, and we watched that shit together. I was always like, “She’s bad luck! Everyone dies around her!” I just love Angela Lansbury. She’s amazing.

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AVC: What do you think it is about you that screams “cop”?

AT: I know, right? And before I played cops, I played nurses a lot. I don’t know, because in real life I’m not trustworthy at all. I will steal from you so fast!

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About the author

Allison Shoemaker

Contributor, The A.V. Club and The Takeout. Allison loves television, bourbon, and dramatically overanalyzing social interactions.