In the first episode of Hulu's Under the Bridge, Reena Virk is trying to fit in with a new group of friends. Her way of bonding? Playing The Notorious B.I.G.'s 1997 opus Life After Death.

That album - his second - was released 16 days after the rap icon was gunned down to death. Virk, played by Vritika Gupta, jumps on the bed as she and other teenage girls rap the lyrics to "Kick In the Door." In the second episode of the scripted series following the murder of the 14-year-old Indian teen, the lyrical mastermind shows up again when Virk is invited to a vigil her classmates hold in honor of the future Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. The teens live in the suburban municipality located on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada.

The eight episodes of Under the Bridge not only tell the story of Virk but also weave in The Notorious B.I.G. and hip-hop's dominant influence on pop culture.

"You can't talk about being a teenager in the ‘90s without it being synonymous with [hip-hop] music, and you see throughout the show that this is a symbol of what Reena was interested in," showrunner and executive producer Samir Mehta tells The Hollywood Reporter. "We have that scene where she's playing music and the parents are asking [her] to turn it off - it was a constant source of conflict, not specifically the music, but what it represents: the fact that she wanted to develop her sense of self and at times that came into conflict with what her parents wanted for her."

The late Rebecca Godfrey wrote about Virk's love for Biggie Smalls in her book, which the series is based on, and producers say they wanted to highlight that fact in the show since little was known about Virk, who was bullied and killed by a group of teenagers. 

"One of the things that we did know is that her uncle bought her this CD, Life After Death, the day that she was killed, and that she was a huge fan of Biggie and that her friends were as well, so we had talked about really leaning into that as a theme in the show," says executive producer Quinn Shepard, who adapted the series for television. She also wrote and directed two episodes.

"When we decided to start the flashback timeline with Reena on her birthday, it felt so kismet that it happened to be that her birthday was one day after Biggie's murder," she adds. "We were like, ‘Oh, we've got to really bake this into the show.'"

Throughout Under the Bridge - which stars Lily Gladstone and Riley Keough - several hip-hop anthems are featured in the episodes, including Lil Kim's "Queen Bitch," Warren G and Nate Dogg's "Regulate," Mobb Deep's "Shook Ones, Pt. II," Foxy Brown's "The Chase," Cypress Hill's "I Wanna Get High," C-Funk's "Whoop Whoop Yeah Yeah," Ultramagnetic MCs' "Watch Your Back," PHD's "Kick That Shit and Get High," Da Brat's "Make It Happen," LSD's "Rowdy at the Party," Spice 1's "187 He Wrote" and Young Black Teenagers' "Sweatin' Me."

The Notorious B.I.G's "Kick In the Door" is featured four times, and the series also includes the rapper's "Going Back to Cali." Born Christopher Wallace, and also known as Biggie Smalls, the performer released his multi-platinum debut, Ready to Die, in 1994. His hits have become rap classics, including "Juicy," "Big Poppa," "Stay With Me," "Hypnotize" and "Mo Money Mo Problems," and he's embedded as one of the most important figures in rap and pop music. And his legacy continues to live on: At last year's Emmy Awards, a VR concert bringing the rapper to life earned a nomination for outstanding emerging media program.

To really highlight his influence on the series, Under the Bridge producers close the gap in one of the final scenes: As Virk's parents sit on their daughter's bed, they look at her CD player and hit play. They listen closely - her mother taking in Biggie's lyrics and her father dancing to the beat. 

The vision of Virk was in the book, but Mehta - who wrote the final episode - says they added the Biggie element "to complete the arc of the Virk parents."

"That moment was really supposed to be crossing that generational gap where the parents sat down and for the first time, sadly after she passed, decided, ‘Let me try to consider what her interests were and let me be a little more open-minded toward the thing that I rejected a few months ago,'" he explains.

"We all were crying because it's the saddest scene," adds Shephard, who was on set with Mehta when the scene was filmed. "For me, that's the scene that makes me the most emotional from the whole show."

Mehta - whose other credits include Fear the Walking Dead, The Sinner, Joe Pickett and Tell Me Lies - worked on the 2018 USA Network miniseries Unsolved, based on the murders of The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur, who died six months before his rap rival. Mehta says there is "a bit of an echo in that story" and Virk's. 

"A lot of people don't even think about it this way, but Biggie and Tupac were in their early 20s when they were killed. They were just kids, and a lot of what led to their deaths was actually their friendship severing. It was actually a falling out between friends playing out on a national stage because they were famous, but in many ways, it was a somewhat adolescent story of two kids who were once friends who basically got in a fight, and it escalated to them both being killed."

All episodes of Under the Bridge are now on Hulu.

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2024-06-13T19:26:58Z dg43tfdfdgfd