Television is a relatively new indulgence for South by Southwest. What started as a music conference and market for the exchange of pop cultural ideas in 1986 quickly grew into a full-blown film festival by 1994. It wasn’t until 2014, however, that TV fully got its due with the addition of “Episodic” programming to the SXSW Film Festival.
Now, nearly 10 years after television first arrived to the Austin, Texas get-together, the People’s Medium is well and truly having its moment at SXSW 2023. No fewer than 20 TV shows will have their premieres at SXSW this time around, running the gamut from tentpole streaming sci-fi (Mrs. Davis, I’m a Virgo) to little-known pilots in search of a forever home (Damascus, Marvin?)
With that in mind, here is everything that SXSW attendees and TV fans in general can look forward to from SXSW 2023’s Episodic output.
A Small Light
March 17 – 7 pm at Stateside Theatre
Holocaust survivor, political activist, and renowned author Elie Wiesel once put forward that “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.” It’s hard to think of someone who more embodies the spirit of Wiesel’s quote than Miep Gies. Known to many schoolchildren across the world from The Diary of Anne Frank, Gies was an Austria-born Dutch citizen who helped hide the Frank family and four other Dutch Jews during the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands. Now, Gies’ story of courage and empathy will be told in A Small Light, an eight-part limited series coming to National Geographic and Disney+ this spring. Bel Powley stars as the young, carefree woman who will soon have to harden herself into the Frank family’s protector. Through it all, the series will challenge viewers to imagine what they would do if they faced such dark, difficult times.
Love & Death
March 11 – 12 pm at Paramount Theatre
“I’m very attracted to you. Would you be interested in having an affair?” Candy Montgomery (Elizabeth Olsen) asks Allan Gore (Jesse Plemons) in the closing moments of the first teaser for HBO Max’s Love & Death. If there’s a better introduction to a David E. Kelley-scripted series, we’ve yet to hear it. The prolific TV writer and producer has covered the dark side of the American dream in everything from legal dramas (The Practice) to murder mysteries (Big Little Lies) to psychological thrillers (The Undoing). With latest project Love & Death, however, Kelley and his impressive cast are getting right to the heart of it all with a story of small-town true crime. Based on the real-life case of a Wylie, Texas axe-murder, Love & Death stars Olsen, Plemons, Lily Rabe, and Patrick Fugit as a handful of Texans confronting boredom, dissatisfaction, and a fatal attraction in the 1980s.
March 11 – 9 pm at Stateside Theatre
Few television actors have had more eclectic careers than Bob Odenkirk. First known as a comedic writer and performer for Saturday Night Live and Mr. Show with Bob and David, for years, Odenkirk seemed content to fulfill the role of Comedy Professor Emeritus…but then came a call from Albuquerque. Roughly 10 seasons of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul later, Odenkirk’s Saul Goodman has reached TV icon status. What does the actor have planned for his AMC follow-up, then? A story of a mid-life crisis, naturally! Based on Richard Russo’s 1997 novel Straight Man, Lucky Hank will end Odenkirk’s brief TV hiatus as he portrays William Henry Devereaux Jr., the chairman of the English department in a badly underfunded college. Armed with a gray beard and a scowl, Odenkirk will look to continue his legacy of portraying difficult TV men alongside co-stars Mireille Enos, Olivia Scott Welch, Diedrich Bader, Suzanne Cryer, Sara Amini, Cedric Yarbrough.
March 12 – 11 am at Stateside Theatre
It’s been too long since television was blessed with The Voice. No, not The Voice but “The Voice.” You know: the gravelly one that emerges from Kiefer Sutherland’s vocal cords as he grapples with all manner of duplicity and trauma. We got to hear the voice through nine seasons of spy thriller 24 and three seasons of political thriller Designated Survivor. Now Sutherland is putting his unnerving growl to use again with Prime Video’s Rabbit Hole. Sutherland is set to play John Weir, a private espionage contractor for the corporate world. When Weir is framed for murder, he must find and confront the Illuminati-like forces of power and influence in a fight for democracy…and survival. Most Sutherland roles inevitably get compared to 24’s Jack Bauer. But here, it’s particularly hard not to imagine how the super spy would respond to the technological perils of the modern world. Guess we’ll find out soon.
March 10 – 9:45 pm at Paramount Theatre
“Murder. Sex. Music. This is not a work of fiction.” Thus reads the full, enigmatic synopsis for Prime Video’s Swarm. Truth be told, though, Swarm’s plot description doesn’t have to be even that verbose. A simple “co-created by Donald Glover” would have sufficed for most TV fans. Swarm indeed hails from Glover, the mastermind behind surreal modern classic Atlanta, and Janine Nabers, a playwright who contributed a script for Atlanta and was a supervising producer on Watchmen. The series will follow Dre (Dominique Fishback), a superfan of a fictional Beyoncé-like pop star, as her obsession takes her to dark, unexpected places. Swarm will have many big questions to ask about modern fandom, passion, and art. This is the first project borne from Amazon’s rich overall deal with Donald Glover and also features none other than Malia Obama in its writers’ room.
I’m A Virgo
March 11 – 5:45 pm at ZACH Theatre
With his 2018 black comedic satire Sorry to Bother You, acclaimed writer/director Boots Riley opted to save the magical realism stunner for the film’s third act. With his latest series, I’m A Virgo, Riley is putting it all out there. Yes, the synopsis of I’m A Virgo isn’t dealing in riddles or metaphor. Jharrel Jerome (When They See Us) really does play a 13-foot-tall young Black man from Oakland, California. I’m a Virgo is another surreal exploration of late-stage capitalism, race in America, and how they often violently intersect. In addition to the up-and-coming Jerome, the series stars Mike Epps, Carmen Ejogo, and an almost unrecognizable Walton Goggins. Though its ideas are very big, I’m a Virgo will boast a lead character with an even bigger heart… metaphorically and literally.
American Born Chinese
March 15 – 3 pm at Paramount Theatre
American Born Chinese is more than just a reunion for Everything Everywhere All At Once stars Ke Huy Quan, Michelle Yeoh, and Stephanie Hsu, though fans of the movie will likely also connect with the themes of identity, family, and belonging in this series. American Born Chinese is an action-packed coming-of-age story that follows Jin Wang (Ben Wang) as he struggles with his identity at school and at home. But not only does Jin have to contend with the messiness and drama of high school and discovering who he is as a person, but he also becomes entangled in a battle between the gods of Chinese mythology after befriending a foreign exchange student from Taiwan.
March 18 – 4 pm at Paramount Theatre
Beef is not about Steven Yeun and Ali Wong starting a cattle ranch together (though we’d watch that too), but is instead about the explosive aftermath of an incident between their characters, Danny and Amy. The “beef” between their characters begins with road rage but won’t take long to escalate over the course of the 10-episode series. The feud between Danny and Amy becomes about so much more than their brief moment of anger on the road as we learn about the pressures of their daily lives and what led them to take this singular moment so seriously. Beef is a dark comedy full of twists and turns and surprisingly moving moments that let Yeun and Wong truly shine.
The Big Door Prize
March 11 – 2:45 pm at Stateside Theatre
What would you do if you found a machine that could tell you your purpose in life? Would you eagerly accept the answers it gave or skeptically wonder how it could know so much about you and your potential? In The Big Door Prize, a small town has to ask themselves these same questions when a mysterious machine called “Morpho” appears within the town’s general store, promising to reveal each person’s true potential in life. Based on M.O. Walsh’s novel of the same name, The Big Door Prize is a heartfelt look at humanity and how even just the possibility of a new life can inspire both small and large changes within a person, like quitting your job as a doctor to become a magician or simply deciding to make behavioral changes to maintain your current relationship. Normally this is the kind of thing that you might expect from an episode of Black Mirror, but it seems as though this series is approaching this concept with wonder and curiosity rather than fear and terror.
March 14 – 2 pm at Stateside Theatre
Set in a not-too-distant future where therapy has been fully digitized, Demascus follows its title character (played by Okieriete Onaodowan) as he struggles to define himself as a 33-year-old Black man. This series will detail his journey of self-discovery as he learns how to balance his “enlightened” and educated self with his “hood” self through this new form of therapy. Demascus’ question of “Who am I?” is likely something most of us can relate to, and though his journey is a personal one, it evokes a feeling a lot of people have at different stages of their life. Unfortunately, Demascus was preemptively canceled by AMC and doesn’t currently have a place where it will stream or air after it premieres at SXSW. But hopefully, this genre-bending series will find a new home soon!
March 14 – 11 am at Stateside Theatre
In his follow-up to the 2013 cult-classic Coherence, James Ward Byrkit has created a collection of interconnected stories that look at the unsettling, surreal, and mind-bending aspects of reality. Shatter Belt is an anthology series that dives into the mysteries of consciousness, free will, desire, and so much more across its episodes. Starring actors like Abigail Spencer and Patton Oswalt, Shatter Belt looks like an intriguing entry into the horror-anthology sphere that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Episode topics range from AI gone wrong to an apple that breaks the fabric of reality at a tech start-up to a restaurant whose food reveals the true desires of its patrons.
March 16 – 5:45 pm at Stateside Theatre
Slip tells the story of Mae Cannon (Zoe Lister-Jones), who seems to be in a happy marriage but continues to feel restless and in need of an escape. But whereas most people in this scenario might just ask their partner for a separation or try to start couples therapy, Mae goes on a journey through parallel universes to find out what she really wants out of life and her relationship. As she experiences new relationships and other versions of what her life could have been, she realizes that all she wants is to get back to her partner and find her original reality – it turns out that the grass really isn’t greener on the other side of the multiverse.