The Continental: From the World of John Wick debuts on Peacock Friday, September 22. The three-part series, a prequel to the film franchise that is set in ‘70s New York City, continues September 29 and wraps October 6.
The feature-length episodes are entitled Night 1, Night 2 and Night 3. Albert Hughes directed Night 1 and Night 3, and Charlotte Brandstrom directed 2.
As the story goes, after being separated for 20 years, brothers Winston and Frankie Scott meet up again under sketchy circumstances. Frankie has stolen a priceless object from Cormac, the Continental Hotel’s manager, and a mobster to boot. Cormac, played by Mel Gibson, sends henchmen to London to bring Winston home to locate Frankie. The brothers then try to outrun, and outsmart, Cormac’s frightful assassins.
In the John Wick feature films, Winston runs the hotel and Charon is the concierge. The Continental looks at “how they meet and form a bond,” in Hughes’ words, “and all the other characters around them at the time.”
Hughes, whose films, directed with brother Allen, include Menace II Society, From Hell and The Book of Eli, said Gibson was “a natural fit for the part,” based on the passion he brought to his roles in Braveheart, Mad Max and other iconoclastic films. “This guy knows how to do this,” said Hughes.
Viewers will “see him evolve, or devolve into something. He comes a little unglued” in The Continental.
Seventies-era movies set in New York, including Taxi Driver and Midnight Cowboy, were a major influence for Hughes. Beyond New York, so were Sergio Leone’s westerns and the Japanese film series Zatoichi, about a blind masseuse and swordsman.
“What’s cool about New York is what’s always been very unique to the city– you rub elbows with different cultures, you have no choice,” said Hughes. “You hear the sounds and smell the foods. There are different neighborhoods, whether it’s Chinatown, the Dominicans over here, the Puerto Ricans over here, the Blacks over here. It’s what America is supposed to be, in a way, the sights and sounds and smells. That was the one thing that was exciting to me about the show.”
He wrote the phrase “Disco Noir” on the wall for the cast and crew to see and dwell on. “There’s something about disco that just makes people happy,” Hughes said.
The viewer is deposited in gritty Manhattan at a rough time in the city’s history. “We get to spend time in that time period, a much more funky time, literally and figuratively,” Hughes said. “When it comes to music and life, it’s a lot more dangerous, a lot more tactile and real.”
The films were actually shot in Budapest, which Hughes said was related to “the usual stuff…chasing a tax break.” Film technology is such that a director can shoot most any city in the world, he added, from most any other city in the world.
He raved about the production infrastructure in Budapest, where Marvel often shoots. “We had an excellent crew,” he said. “We didn’t want for anything as far as quality.”
Hughes lives in Prague, which he settled in after shooting From Hell there a couple decades before.
John Wick came out in 2014, with Keanu Reeves playing the former hitman who can’t quite quit the underworld. Four other films in the John Wick franchise followed.
In The Continental, Colin Woodell plays Winston, Mishel Prada portrays KD, Ben Robson is Frankie, Nhung Kate is Yen and Ayomide Adegun plays Charon.
A Lionsgate production, The Continental was developed, written and executive produced by Greg Coolidge, Kirk Ward and Shawn Simmons. Along with Hughes, Coolidge, Ward and Simmons, the executive producers are Thunder Road Pictures’ Basil Iwanyk and Erica Lee, Chad Stahelski, Derek Kolstad, David Leitch, Paul Wernick, Rhett Reese and Marshall Persinger.
Reviews have been so-so. CNN called The Continental “a handsomely produced but unnecessary prequel Peacock miniseries with a Keanu Reeves-shaped donut hole.”
USA Today said, “As a bruising and bullet-ridden retro tale, its aim is true. And if you love the hits of the '70s, get ready for all your favorite needle drops. But as an essential addition to the Wick canon, The Continental is more of a misfire.”
Fans of the John Wick films will appreciate “all these Easter eggs that are nodding to the future,” said Hughes. But he said those who’ve not seen the movies should enjoy Peacock’s John Wick three-parter just as much. “We had to make the show so that you can come in fresh and not be lost,” he said.
Hughes said the Continental films, which sprinkle some humor in amidst the rough-and-tumble story, as the disco noir motto suggests, offer robust escapism. “My goal is for people to check out and have fun,” he said, “and not think about the real world.”
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Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.