After a bit of a pandemic slowdown, SeriesFest, which celebrates emerging and underserved voices in episodic storytelling, is back bigger and better than ever, overflowing with top-notch television viewing for all audiences.
“We’re excited to engage with everybody in the community about all the great stories being told,” said Randi Kleiner, co-founder and CEO of the Denver-based non-profit. “We’re looking forward to people getting together to be part of great conversations about all the exciting things happening in the industry.”
Running from May 5 through May 10, SeriesFest Season 9 features a wide range of in-competition pilot screenings, panels, workshops and premieres from big studios, including Netflix, Amazon Freevee and Universal Television.
In addition to an array of episode showings, the lineup includes fascinating panels like, “Actors with Disabilities Making Their Mark in Hollywood: What More Needs to be Done,” “The Art of Adaptation: Beyond the Book” and “Turning Podcasts into Television’s Next Big Hit with Orbit Media.”
As usual, the event wraps up at Red Rocks with a night of special performances — this year the evening features headliner Chelsea Handler and guests Jay Pharoah and Adam Ray. There will also be a screening of Fox’s “Animal Control,” with star Joel McHale on hand to discuss the show and perform a stand-up set.
Whether audiences attend one of the special events or just catch a screening, they’re in for a television viewing experience that most don’t have — one that features the episodes shown on the big screen and the chance to connect with others.
“So much is happening in the industry right now and that’s what is so exciting,” Kleiner said. “You really have the opportunity to see the shows you love, meet the creators and learn something you didn’t know.”
With so many great options, here are two SeriesFest events audiences shouldn’t miss.
‘Grown’ screening — May 7
Many viewers know Jocko Sims from his roles on shows like “The Last Ship” and “New Amsterdam.” But for “Grown,” Sims explored the power of storytelling in a different way — as executive producer, writer and director.
“I’ve been a creator for pretty much all of my life… and this was something I’ve always wanted to do but didn’t have the time,” he said. “But I took the time and made it a priority and it has been such a ride ever since.”
“Grown” will be screened as part of the Independent Pilot Competition: Comedy Block 1 at the Sie FilmCenter, 2510 E. Colfax Ave. in Denver, at 6:15 p.m. May 17, and will also be shown to local high school students as part of High School Day.
The pilot, which won SXSW’s TV pilot competition, is about 14-year-old Rogelio (Josiah Gabriel), who recently lost his father and is struggling with what it means to be an adult. He and his friends Larry (Tristan-Lee Edwards) and Chaz (Giovanni Cristoff) decide to sneak into a strip club, leading to a reckoning about who Rogelio thinks he is and who he wants to be.
“Grown’s” participation in the festival is a sort of homecoming for Sims — “New Amsterdam” made its premiere at SeriesFest back in 2018. He’s eager to be back to share a story that means a great deal to him and hopes it connects with viewers, particularly students.
“I’d love for the youth to be inspired in whatever way they can,” Sims said. “When they see these kids making decisions, both good and bad, perhaps they can learn from that and apply it to their lives.”
‘Primo’ world premiere screening — May 8
For Shea Serrano, a New York Times best-selling author and culture critic, working as creator, executive producer and a writer on “Primo” was a daily reminder of how much creative potential is unlocked when people work together.
“All of these incredibly talented people spent a lot of time working on it and I’m thankful and proud every time I sit down to watch it,” he said. “I watch the show and I see everybody’s fingerprints all over it.”
Amazon will unveil the first season of “Primo” on May 19, but its world-premiere screening will be at 8:15 p.m. on Monday, May 8, at the Sie FilmCenter. Serrano and actors Ignacio Diaz-Silverio and Christina Vidal will all be on hand for a discussion afterwards hosted by Diaspora’s Dino Ray-Ramos.
The show, which is executive produced by Michael Schur (“Parks and Recreation” and “The Good Place”), is based on some of Serrano’s own experiences growing up in San Antonio. It follows 16-year-old Rafa Gonzales (Diaz-Silverio) as he comes of age with the help of his mother, Drea (Vidal), and five uncles.
Since “Primo” has its roots in such personal experiences, Serrano was able to fill the show with specific references and jokes his family and friends will recognize — everything from costume choices to a shout out to a favorite A Tribe Called Quest song.
Some shows become like a warm blanket — something viewers can turn on when they need to feel better about being alive, and that was the goal for “Primo.”
“That’s my ultimate dream for the show — that ‘Primo’ becomes a part of somebody’s lineup in that situation,” Serrano said. “You are unwinding at the end of the day and you watch an episode or two and see what the Gonzales family is getting up to in San Antonio.”
For the full SeriesFest lineup and to secure tickets, visit https://seriesfest.com/.
Clarke Reader’s column on culture appears on a weekly basis. He can be reached at Clarke.Reader@hotmail.com.