(KGET) — Joe Penna and Ryan Morrison faced a very unnerving feeling when the pandemic hit. It had nothing to do with their personal safety but with how what was happening in the real world mirrored events in their production “Release.” Morrison found it odd to see the six-part series they had created and produced before the first quarantine come to life.
What they pair put together is a production – debuting Sept. 3 on the subscription streaming service Topic – that looks at interconnected portraits from the first several months of a fictional pandemic as it strikes the quiet outskirts of an American city. It explores the reactions, fears and hopes of ordinary citizens struggling to cope during the outbreak and ensuing quarantine.
Morrison says, via a Zoom interview due to the real pandemic, “We thought ‘Is this going to be believable that everybody’s going to be wearing masks and here we are?’ And, just on my way over here to Joe’s place I had to wear one out in the real world.”
Penna adds that as soon as they got past the initial shock of seeing the real world version, they began to discuss what they might have missed in the telling of their story. Social distancing and toilet paper shortages were two elements they didn’t include in “Release.”
The stars of “Release” include Kota Eberhardt (“Dark Phoenix”), Noah Averbach-Katz (“The Good Fight”), Aunjanue Ellis (“The Clark Sisters”), Mark Borkowski (“House of Cards”), Matthew Lawler (“City on a Hill’) and Lana McKissack (“A Christmas Movie Christmas”). Many of them have seen the parallels between the real and fictional pandemics.
McKissack says, “My character, Rose, in our episode was very paranoid; duct-taped all the holes, like tiny cracks in the doors and the windows; really took everything very, very seriously. I said to Ryan and Joe when we shot this ‘This would totally be me in a pandemic.’
“Well, this is me in a pandemic. I’m not duct-taping things, but I still hand wash every piece of kale, and spray the mail when it comes through the door, and Swiffer the floor when the mail gets picked up.”
“Release” looks at a very real part of the current quarantine: the need to get out of the house. One of the main characters is ready to go and anytime there is any information that is hinting that it is OK to go out, he is ready to go. The creators are certain those confined in their homes today will be able to relate to that feeling.
The series does have everyone wearing masks. That was important to the creators to tell their story but was a bit of an annoyance to some of the performers and a necessity for others.
Numerous designs for the masks to be worn in “Release” were considered from the type most people wear today to dust masks. That was based on research for the project that ranged from the 1918 pandemic to the Ebola outbreak. They did opt for a clear mask as a way of helping the performers.
McKissack admits the cast kept complaining in between every scene that the masks were uncomfortable. She told the producers that “the rubber, plastic was rubbing up on our faces, and I can’t breathe.”
Ellis found wearing a mask to be helpful.
“It helped me because Ida was at her wits’ end and when you’re feeling that, when you’re feeling desperation it’s physically uncomfortable, like you feel it in your body. It’s a physical manifestation of your mind. And so wearing the mask fed that, fed that discomfort, fed the discomfort that I felt physically and fed the disease that I felt, the pain that I felt internally. So, it was helpful for character purposes.”
How the fictional and real pandemics parallel can be seen in “Release,” an original series from Topic, the streaming service that launched last year. It features North American premieres and exclusive programming from around the world and is available to US and Canadian audiences on Topic.com, Apple iOS and AppleTV, Android, Amazon Fire TV and Roku, in addition to Amazon Prime Video Channels.