Tremble before True Detective
Here’s a little piece I wrote for Graffiti with Punctuation about True Detective a few weeks ago.
There is an incredible flux going on between the world of television and film. While the relaxed behaviour of patrons in cinemas has resulted in the popular opinion that it’s the new living room, your living room just became the new cinema thanks to HBOs new series True Detective.
I’m not going to bang on about which medium is better because that’s a fool’s errand; I truly believe we are witnessing an equinox in the media landscape where television has finally levelled the playing field. If you haven’t heard about True Detective, it’s a show starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson playing police officers investigating a murder. The concept is simple but the execution is sublime. The southern gothic style and haunting mood has already garnered comparisons to Twin Peaks and it’s certainly working from a similar playbook to last year’s fantastic Top of the Lake from Jane Campion. The direction of Cary Fukunaga is visceral, haunting, and nightmarish at times, while the series creator, Nic Pizzolatto, has the detectives navigating the landscape of deplorable human behaviour and showcasing the toll it takes on the people who enforce the law. The mystery of the case is intriguing and every episode is full of well deployed twists to keep you hooked. McConaughey is going to the next level with his performance which is fascinating to watch considering the actor is on the cusp of nabbing an Oscar for his performance in Dallas Buyer Club. While awards can be frivolous, I’ll go out on a limb and say his work in True Detective is already shadowing his Oscar nominated role.
The shocker is that True Detective is only two episodes into its run, and it’s already making everything else look incredibly amateur. I’d usually wait for a series to run its course to get reflective on greatness, but Pizzolatto would have to burn the show to the ground to suffer any serious blowback. So why should anyone in the film business be terrified of this show? The answer is simple. There is no motivation to go to the movies if you can stay at home and watch True Detective. Yes, there is a premium cable price tag of accessing HBO on cable but this show pretty much ensures the subscription pays for itself. And yes, there have been shows before it like Breaking Bad, The Wire and Mad Men that are worth your time on the couch. The major difference True Detective has is the star power of McConaughey and Harrelson. How did these guys find the time and overcome the egos of their agents and managers, who would be pushing them away from doing a TV show and into a big film payday? Don’t forget, Harrelson features prominently in the one of the biggest film franchises at the moment, The Hunger Games, so his diversion into television is not a career requirement. Both actors also feature as executive producers and it’s great to see them throwing their weight behind quality material.
In order to be the best you’ve got to play the best, and True Detective is throwing the biggest challenge at filmmakers and studio executives to up their game. It’s especially poignant in a climate where Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra was considered “too gay” for a cinema release in America, Steven Spielberg had to plead with a studio to get Lincoln made, and Quentin Tarantino would rather publish one of his screenplays than take it into production (the recent fiasco over his new film The Hateful Eight that has now been cancelled). We are entering an age where a film could take a hit at the box office because people at staying at home watching television, this is a real possibility, and you really can’t blame a person for not wanting to venture out of the house. The Netflix series House of Cards and Orange is the New Black dropped a quality bomb in one big dose. Audiences can spend a whole weekend devouring a series via ‘binge viewing’ without even considering glancing over the session times at a local cinema complex.
Of course, 2013 proved that a truly great cinema experience can pull people towards a movie theatre and give them something they can’t get at home. The prefect example being Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, a completely immersive experience that spruiked all the benefits of a big screen and a booming surround system in a darkened room. But guess what Cuaron has planned next? A television series called Believe that debuts in 2014.
The cinema will always be a special place for me despite the audience chatter and phone fiddlers more interested in Facebook than the movie. A distinct line has been drawn as spectacle becomes the realm of cinema while top-notch drama is soaking up audiences on television. True Detective is a wakeup call to the bastions of the green light in the filmmaking landscape. We can now be gripped within our own homes with all the same elements that were once the pride of the Hollywood. I love that I can be blown away by a film and come home to incredible television, we are spoilt with options, but True Detective is a serious movement toward asserting the dominance of television in the battle for our time.