Hidden Treasures
Jason Segel, Sally Field, and Eve Lindley unveil a visually stunning "love letter" to Philadelphia in the imaginative series Dispatches From Elsewhere.
by Debra Wallace

Life in 2020 means people have gotten used to unprecedented experiences. Last summer and fall, for example, while dining on Rittenhouse Square, one might have glanced over at an adjacent table to see Jason Segel, Sally Field, Andre Benjamin, and Eve Lindley sharing a meal in their adopted hometown.

This foursome came together for AMC's Dispatches From Elsewhere, an inventive 10-episode TV series that follows a group of "ordinary people" who go on a modern-day quest to break from their daily routine in pursuit of magic and discovery ... all in Philadelphia. The all-star cast unexpectedly fell in love with the city's diverse cultural heritage and championing spirit.

Deemed "a love letter to Philadelphia" by its production team, the show took the cast around artistic neighborhoods, including Rittenhouse Square, South Philly, Old City, and Fishtown, as well as a few locations in the suburbs. The city's murals, mosaics, folk art, street art, and festivals inspired every aspect of the show in the way that the production team had never seen a location do before.

The show portrays an "alternate reality" game that was based on a real-life experiment. Segel, who previously starred in the sitcom How I Met Your Mother and films such as Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The Muppets, assembled a stellar cast to bring the idea to life.

Segel plays Peter, a sad sack who works for a music-streaming company; two-time Oscar winner Field plays Janice, a lonely grandmother who needs to reclaim her identity; actor-rapper Benjamin, also known as Andre 3000 (American Crime), introduces viewers to a paranoid man named Fredwynn who seeks the truth; and Lindley (Mr. Robot) plays Simone, a trans woman struggling to escape feelings of isolation.

Nearly a dozen locations around the nation were originally scouted. Segel, the show's creator, chose Philadelphia for the six-month film shoot.

"Philadelphia is known for its grit, but it also has more murals than any other city in the country," he explains. "So, we feel that it embodies the spirit of the show in that way. The show also captures the underdog spirit of the city."

We spoke with three members of the Dispatches From Elsewhere cast -- Segel, Field, and Lindley -- about Philadelphia's neighborhoods, the similarities among people who at first glance seem dissimilar, and finding magic in unexpected places.

Jason, how did you get the idea to create this unique show?
Segel: I had just read Infinite Justice, so I was feeling alive with these ideas, and then I stumbled into this crazy experience in real life that I took part in that we document and dramatize in our show. The show is based on The Institute, a documentary about an elaborate game that was played in the San Francisco Bay Area between 2008 and 2011. I found it really moving, that a bunch of people in really different stages of life, from totally different walks of life -- socioeconomically, politically, ethnically -- were all taking part in this thing because something was missing from their lives.

And that was just so interesting to me, that maybe we are all much more alike and much more confused than we are being told to believe. We're supposed to see our differences, and I wanted to make a show about how we're much more similar than we realize.

Please talk about finding Eve Lindley for the role of Simone.
Segel: I learned over many years that it's all about the casting and finding people with whom you can explore these scenes together. And you then end up adapting it for the actual actor and actress that you cast. So I was doing improv in this scene with Eve, and she was doing it so much more nuanced than I had even imagined it when I was writing it. We finished the moment, and I turned to Eve and I said, "Gosh, she's so much more complicated than I realized." And Eve looked up at me and said, "She always is, Jason."

Where did the epiphany come from for your stylistic choices?
Segel: We are inundated with so much television that it is very easy to zone out when you're watching something, especially by the end of the episode. So, I wanted as much as possible throughout the season to use unconventional storytelling to force you to pay attention. When you're thrust into a situation you havenít seen before, your brain activates a little bit and you might be receptive to the theme that we're trying to communicate. It's kind of a wake up for all of us.

Sally, what attracted you to this show?
Field: Well, as Jason has said, hopefully in life, we are all sort of taking these journeys without knowing that we are. Not quite as fanciful as this is. The reason that I wanted to do this show is that it's this really involved treasure hunt that they get caught up in, it comes about to alter their whole lives, and they find out who they are within that.

The whole story was so unusual in a lot of ways. And the best part of doing television is that you're always kind of flying by the seat of your pants. This show was certainly an example of just figuring it out as we went along, in a lot of ways -- especially when it came to the character stuff. And that makes it so much fun because it's completely alive up until the last second.

This show is about self-discovery. What do you feel you discovered about yourself?
Field: Last year was an incredibly busy year for me. Three weeks before I got to Philadelphia, which is such a spectacular city, I had just come home from London where I had done a play for the first part of the year. I had been there for three and a half months. So, I was just twirling all of these very different work experiences, and then I went into this incredibly eclectic, fanciful group. So, I donít know what I learned last year from this show, and I hope I live long enough to figure it out.

Eve, please share your fond memories of working with Sally Field.
Lindley: There are so many. We both love doing puzzles, and I have been working on a few that she gave me when we were together. I loved having dinner with Sally at Parc, a lovely restaurant off Rittenhouse Square.
Talk about spending nearly six months in Philadelphia.
Lindley: I didn't know anything about the city, so it took me a little by surprise. I thought it would have a grungier feel to it. But the art, especially the murals, made it such a pleasant experience. To look up and see each mural reflect a specific part of town made discovering the city magical for me. I would also love to go back to the thrift shops and to eat some more cheesesteaks.

What's the takeaway from the show?

Lindley: The real joy of this show, and any TV show, is getting to know a character or a person you thought you didn't have anything in common with, and then slowly realizing how similar you are to them. So, I think that this show really embodies that because all four of our characters seem so wacky and different, and not really the type of people that you may see on TV all the time. If you watch, you will grow to love all of them. I think it's really about human connections and trying to connect with people that you initially felt you were not connecting with.

Editor's note: Season One of Dispatches From Elsewhere is currently airing on AMC, and an announcement is expected soon on the possibility of a second season.

Photography by Jessica Kourkounis/AMC











Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life magazine, June 2020.