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A Charlie Bielinski Pop-Ed: 'True Detective' Leads the Way for Limited Series

Before I get started I have to openly admit that I did not see the genius of True Detective in the beginning of the show’s run. A few of my friends were commenting on how awesome the show was, and I definitely read all the positive reviews the critics were heaping on the show even before any episodes had aired. However, I watched the first two episodes and frequently found myself checking Twitter and Facebook on my iPad. Sure, I could see that the writing was top notch and that the acting was amazing, but the show was exceptionally slow. In a way, it reminded me another HBO show from the past: Deadwood. Both shows featured great acting and lots of incredible dialogue, but while watching Deadwood, my wife and I both were focused on the show. During these first two episodes of True Detective, however, I kept waiting for something to happen while my wife kept falling asleep. After Week Two, the rest of the episodes began to gather precious space on my Directv Genie until this past Friday night. I sat down after work thinking that if things didn’t pick up I was going to tap out and play some Xbox (which, to be fair, I am going to do after I finish this — Lara Croft is waiting).

I am exceedingly thankful that I gave the show a second chance, because it is a brilliant example of the new style of presenting a television show that has become popular since American Horror Story. Basically, the show is a planned run of limited episodes and the story has a beginning, middle and end. Unlike episodic television, which typically features the story of the week style of storytelling with perhaps a larger story arc to tie the plot together or the type of show that builds on the main themes and story arc through multiple seasons with perhaps different minor arcs, this new style allows for a self-contained story that can last anywhere from eight to 13 episodes (based on what we have seen so far, of course). From all accounts that I have read to this point it appears that Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey and their search for The Yellow King and The Spaghetti Monster will not continue past this season. If the show gets a second season order there will be new detectives and an entirely new storyline.

There are a few of huge benefits in choosing to produce a television show in this way, both to viewers and to the creators.

First, it allows for the opportunity to cast major movie stars in prominent television roles. In the past, it was possible to see major actors on television but only during a sweeps month. Shows would produce big name guest stars to try to boost ratings so that they could then entice viewers top watch one single episode of their television show and win a ratings period. This stunt casting wasn’t just limited to actors in the past either, as I remember tuning in to watch the Quentin Tarantino-directed episode of CSI simply because I wanted to see what Quentin would do on television. CSI gained me as a viewer for that one single episode (I had previously stopped watching after a couple of seasons) and also almost 10 million other people as well, as the average for the season was 24 million viewers and at the high point of that night there were 35 million viewers. With this new model of television, on the same night viewers are watching McConaughey portray the very complex character Rust Cohle they can also watch (or dvr) as he receives an Oscar for Best Actor. (I did it the other way around, because I love the Oscars). This is a huge plus for both viewers and the creators of a show. Viewers get to enjoy the work of people usually only seen on film and creators can employ the biggest names in the entertainment industry for more than just a small guest starring role.

A second advantage for viewers is that they don’t need to invest years in a show and worry about feeling silly for not recognizing when an element from the first season shows up in the final season, which could be years later. Many times I have had that conversation where a friend is explaining to me something that happened in the latest episode of a show, and I get that blank look on my face that shows I have no idea what that friend is referring to when we are talking. I’m a fan of Person of Interest, but it isn’t necessarily one of the shows on my must-watch list. I’ve gone weeks without watching an episode, and it is very hard to catch up with the story. I recently decided to clear it off my dvr, so I watched a couple of the latest episodes (I was about 12 behind) in order to try to catch up. Not only had a major character been killed off, but also two other major characters had been introduced. At this point, I think it is hopeless for me to actually catch up and have any kind of connection with the show. With the single season storytelling method even if they miss a couple of episodes viewers have plenty of time to finish the season before the next one begins and they won’t lose that personal connection to a show.

Finally, telling a story in this manner allows for the creators to be focused on the story itself, which should result in tighter storylines and less “filler” episodes. Every minute of the show conceivably would be used to advance the narrative or provide important character development. In theory that would mean there would be less weak episodes of a show and more quality television. I am very happy that the producers of 24 have chosen to shorten their show in this way to 12 episodes instead of the usual 24. By doing this it means there is less of chance that they will repeat the Kim Bauer-mountain lion fiasco.

Of course, the large, looming negative that I haven’t spoken about yet is that after next week we will likely be waiting 10 months until the next installment of True Detective because of the extremely short season. What’s great about this new era of television, however, is that new seasons of shows seem to start and end throughout the year, a development that is worthy of a column itself if only because it will allow me to write about the first show I remember to have a summer season, Beverly Hills 90210.

Oh well, at least winter is coming … in April to help fill the gap until the new true detectives arrive.
A Charlie Bielinski Pop-Ed: 'True Detective' Leads the Way for Limited Series Reviewed by Charlie Bielinski on 3/04/2014 Rating: 5

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