Fargo and True Detective are two good reasons TV should produce more of what is essentially long-form cinema.
In the past six months, two TV series have stood out as exemplary, showcasing some of the best acting we’ve seen on the small screen in years, whilst both being standalone works that started and finished within their ten episode parameters. Fargo and True Detective captivated audiences and critics alike, with stunning performances from heavyweight casts and beautifully crafted storylines that tied up all loose ends within a single season. And it’s something we should be prepared to see more of.
There are no surprises or the inevitable decrease in quality, nor a shit ending to leave a sour taste after seven years of hard work
Standalone series are a fantastic way to produce TV, for a start because actors really want to work in the medium. It allows them a script of feature film quality, with the added bonus of ten hours’ worth of screen time to play with their character. Hence we’ve seen some of the biggest names in Hollywood taking on these roles – see Martin Freeman and Matthew McConaughey in Fargo and True Detective, respectively. The attraction is also in the fact that they are only tied in to ten episodes – when you have film offers coming out of your ears, you can’t possibly agree to an indefinitely long series and the subsequent filming schedule. Nor should we expect them to. Standalone series allow actors to sign on to a complete – and in the aforementioned cases, fantastic – script with a definite conclusion in sight.
There’s also the fact that you know exactly what you’ve signed up to ahead of time. There are no surprises or the somewhat inevitable decrease in quality, nor a shit ending to leave a sour taste after seven years of hard work (yeah, Dexter, we’re looking at you). Simultaneously chilling and hilarious as hitman Lorne Malvo in Fargo, Billy Bob Thornton explained to Hitfix that, “If you wanna do good work, TV’s where they’re doing it. There’s so much freedom as an actor and a writer. But I didn’t want to get involved with something that would maybe potentially last six or seven years, because I’ve got a lot of movies I wanna do.”
Read more: Fargo: A TV ‘remake’ with a twist
Coupled with this is the fact that these actors have time to really grasp their role and play with the characters. Granted, they’re not given as much time to develop them as on conventional TV, but this in partnership with a short lifespan means for a much better pace of story. Sure, getting to know Tony Soprano or Don Draper over six seasons was wonderful; you got to know their intricacies and learn where their terrible habits and shortcomings came from. Taking this slower pace takes more concentration and dedication to stick with, which certainly isn’t a bad thing, but seems to put off many viewers.
These shows have all the positives of feature films, but none of the negatives of a cash cow flogged far beyond its appropriate death
Fargo, on the other hand was spot on, with ample action and wholesome characters. It was a pleasure to watch Lester Nygaard transform before our eyes as he manned the fuck up, turning from a loser of Cameron Frye proportions into a calculating, manipulative bastard that Frank Underwood would be proud of. True Detective, conversely, used a narrative that jumped from present to past to a time in between the two. This structure was an excellent way of slowly feeding us nuggets of story to build up Rust and Marty’s fascinating relationship.
The prospect of seeing two new, well established actors joining HBO to take a different look at and perspective on the True Detective or another story set in the Coens’ Fargo universe is extremely exciting. Just as exciting is that, after such success, these shows pave the way for more outstanding television with all the positives of feature films, but none of the negatives of a cash cow being flogged far beyond its appropriate death.
Featured image: FX
Inset image: HBO