Accused Robyn testifies on the witness stand next to a judge

EXCLUSIVE: Accused showrunner Howard Gordon explains why ‘Robyn’s Story’ is a tragedy

SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers for Accused Season 1, Episode 5, “Robyn’s Story.”

FOX’s crime anthology Accused discussed hate crimes and sexual identity in “Robyn’s Story,” the installment that saw drag queen Robyn Banks accused of murdering her lover’s wife. Not only was Robyn beaten up in a courthouse bathroom prior to court proceedings, but audiences saw how Robyn’s lover had actually done the deed and tried to frame her for it. Robyn managed to be acquitted after she delivered an impassioned speech on the witness stand, but that was just one part of a very complicated episode.

In the second of my exclusive interviews with Accused showrunner Howard Gordon, we delved into the making of “Robyn’s Story,” which starred J. Harrison Ghee and Chris Coy and was directed by Billy Porter. Here’s what Howard had to say about how the episode came together and the themes he was hoping Daniel Pearle’s script imparted to the audience.

Brittany Frederick: In “Robyn’s Story” you delve into sexual identity with Robyn, whom the audience initially meets as Kevin Milstead, and her closeted boyfriend Jamie Barnes. The series has protagonists of different classes (“Danny’s Story”), races (“Kendall’s Story”) and now sexual orientation. Was it a goal to have Accused represent as many demographics as possible?

Howard Gordon: Yes. It wasn’t like ‘Let’s do one about the Korean-American community,’ but there was a big, wide net that I cast of reading playwrights and younger writers and writers from different communities. This is a great part of doing this anthology. It was an opportunity to shine a light on subcultures that I would not have had access to or [be able] to do that kind of deep dive. It was humbling and moving and awesome.

I did much more sitting back and shutting up than I ever have. [I was] putting myself into it when I needed to to make sure the story was as good as it could be. But whereas in the past I might have rushed into the breach assuming I’m the only one who can do this, I found myself [sitting] back a little bit longer than I normally would. And we got to the places that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have gotten.

BF: Every episode has dealt with difficult subjects, but “Robyn’s Story” is particularly challenging because it has several, including sexual abuse and hate crimes. Was it as moving to put together this episode as it was to watch?

HG: Daniel Pearle, who was on the very small staff that we had and really was a standout, wrote this episode. It was adapted from the UK [episode “Tracie’s Story”]. Daniel is gay, and it was important to him. He made a couple of very, very wise, very sensitive moments. When they talk about abuse as having been causal to Jamie being gay, we really wanted to make sure that that wasn’t fetishized or pathologized. And we just gave that voice to Kevin in that moment. He goes, ‘You may lean on that and think, ‘Oh,’ because whoever did that, but you are…’ [The episode is] about the tragedy of what happens when you can’t be who you are.

I really emphasized that we needed to understand that [Jamie’s] brother wasn’t just a homophobic guy. His parents died and his older brother raised him. And this is a very human relationship…I wanted to understand what it was about Jamie that made him so beholden emotionally to his older brother and why his brother’s hateful disposition held so much power with him.

What happens is tragic, but I just love that Robyn—who in the public forum of the court was hiding behind Kevin—it was a very fun and pulpy, perhaps slightly manipulative, but very theatrical move to have her come out…But it was also about identity and about shame and about the price of shame.

Accused director Billy Porter discusses helming “Robyn’s Story.” (Video Credit: Courtesy of FOX.)

BF: Let’s talk about that monologue a bit. Accused gives J. Harrison Ghee this beautiful platform for Robyn to speak her truth, but it does also feel like something that would never fly in an actual court of law. Where was the balance between a great character moment and keeping it somewhat realistic?

HG: There is a certain amount of poetic license. In L.A. Law, Arnie Becker got a case in the morning. He was trying it by the afternoon. So you have to do some compression for dramatic purposes. But that monologue was a great piece of theater. And Daniel, this is where his training as a playwright really came home to roost. He’s not afraid of words. Dramatic writing is somewhat new to him. And so we don’t have as much elbow room and runway as a play might have, but there’s beautiful poetry in some of those scenes.

BF: Billy Porter directed this episode, and there’s a distinct visual style to it with the drag scenes. In working with a different director for each story, how do you create a visual through-line so audiences know it’s still Accused, but each director gets to have their own approach and each episode feels like its own world?

HG: The network was really afraid of the anthological aspect of it. The conventional wisdom is they want to take a character and see those characters [evolve], and that’s true. But I think even deeper than that, what they want is an emotional contract with the show, which is how are they going to feel when they’re done watching? What do they expect? And I think that there’s a uniformity in you’re going to be entertained. I think you’re going to be moved. And you’re going to think a little differently again at the end of every episode.

I hope there’s a sameness of quality. I hope it’s going to be a good story. Well told, concisely told, powerful in a way, but different. So I think that diversity in both tone and also diversity in location, class, gender, whatever it might be, will be compelling. In a way, I often feel like I’m being held hostage often by shows. It’s like a compulsion to watch it. I want this to be a subversive pleasure. I want people to watch it in whatever order they want to watch it. I would love them to watch all of them, but they don’t have to.

Accused airs Tuesdays at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on FOX.

Article content is (c)2020-2023 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr and on Instagram at @BFTVGram.

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