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The Way Down - What We Know So Far

The upcoming "The Eyes of Tammy Faye" is sure to get everyone in the mood for the drama of evangelical Christian women who grew from their small roots into widespread popularity and religious leadership. Evidently, that's the oddly specific genre of the month, as HBO Max is aiming to make the next captivating docuseries with their upcoming original, "The Way Down," which offers an in-depth look into the massively popular religious diet program and resulting church of Gwen Shamblin Lara. 

The title is a play on Lara's "Weigh Down Workshop," which promises to help members lose weight through their belief in God, as opposed to typical strategies like calorie counting or exercise. Despite appearing on countless talk shows promoting it — or, more likely, because of it — she found herself amidst much controversy, with the word "cult" being thrown around.

Though "The Way Down" was set to release in full this year, a tragedy has complicated its schedule. Here's everything we know about the docuseries.

When is the release date for The Way Down?

Originally, the four parts of "The Way Down" were set to release all at once this fall. Then, on May 29, Gwen Shamblin Lara, her husband, and several other prominent members of the Remnant Fellowship Church died in a plane crash. This new development is being added to the docuseries, in addition to the stories of people now willing to talk about the church, so the release schedule has been altered and another episode has been added. The first three episodes of "The Way Down" will premiere on HBO Max on September 30, with the concluding two parts releasing in early 2022.

"There is a fuller story to be told. We just want to make sure that we can allow enough time for the story to progress and the investigation to pursue some answers and give us time to interview all the subjects," HBO Max's senior vice president of nonfiction Lizzie Fox said in a statement, via The New York Times. Expect an ominous "To Be Continued" at the end of Episode 3.

Who is in The Way Down?

"The Way Down" is a documentary, so the cast is made up of real people who have had some sort of involvement with the Remnant Fellowship Church. Ex-members will share their experiences, as well as family members of congregants of the church, including those who died in the plane crash.

The central figure of the story is Gwen Shamblin Lara, who began as a dietitian and founded the Weigh Down Workshop in 1988. She then created the Remnant Fellowship Church in 1999 with her now-ex-husband. According to The New York Times, she was not interviewed for the docuseries, but it will include footage of her speaking in both sermons and media appearances. No other official church representatives were interviewed, either.

Also important to the documentary's story is Lara's husband, William Joseph "Joe" Lara, who was in a clash for custody over his daughter with his ex-wife; he was also flying the plane when it crashed.

What is The Way Down about?

If the Remnant Fellowship Church and the Weigh Down Workshop were just your average church and diet plan, obviously, there would be no reason to make a documentary about them. However, the story is far more complicated than that. In fact, Gwen Shamblin Lara and her programs are steeped in controversy — that's where "The Way Down" comes in.

The series has been filming for a few years now, with Marina Zenovich directing. Zenovich is known for the documentaries "Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind," aka one of the best documentaries on HBO Max, and "Lance." It will look into the history of the Remnant Fellowship, which grew out of the popularity of the Weigh Down Workshop and is based in Tennessee, with an eye toward the critiques levied at them both. Some compare the Remnant Fellowship to a cult, while the methods of Lara's weight loss program have received backlash for their departure from science and emphasis on God.

In particular, the culture within both the church and workshop is critiqued. "As ex-members describe it in the documentary, the church was less a place of worship and more an all-encompassing power that took over every aspect of their lives, from where they worked and how they dressed to whom they married," Nicole Sperling wrote for The New York Times. In the same article, the series' producer Nile Cappello said, "Gwen's whole control is using misogyny against other women." Lara put heavy emphasis on body image as well as traditional gender roles when it came to her congregants.

The final episodes of the docuseries will cover the plane crash and its aftermath, which added many new questions for the filmmakers to address.