After decades of even the finest TV series playing second fiddle to feature films, television programming has steadily accumulated cultural currency. But while it's the director who calls the shots on a feature film set, it's generally the writer — and specifically the show-runner — who's in the driver's seat for episodic TV production. On TV, different directors come and go, but showrunners leave their fingerprints on every episode of a series. So what happens when filmmakers try to take a more auteur-style role, occupying the director's chair for an entire season and calling more of the creative shots?
Sometimes the results are extraordinary (check out Steven Soderbergh's two seasons of The Knick if you haven't already) and sometimes they're embarrassing (Woody Allen's Amazon Prime show, Crisis in Six Scenes, got middling-to-scathing reviews on its premiere last Friday). And sometimes they don't even get off the ground — David Fincher was working on two projects simultaneously at HBO last summer when one of them was shut down after four episodes were completed and another was nipped in the bud before it started shooting. Here's a look at how five proven filmmakers are looking to bring their directorial voice to small-screen storytelling over the next year.
Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It
Earlier this month, Netflix ordered up 10 episodes of She's Gotta Have It, based on the 1986 feature directorial debut of one Spike Lee. Lee is set to direct all 10 episodes — a feat made more manageable by the fact that Anthony Ramos (of the Broadway musical Hamilton) will replace him in the central role of Mars Blackmon. (Other crucial parts, such as titular character Nola Darling, apparently have not been cast yet.) Shot in two weeks for less than $200,000, the original film was a key work in the American independent cinema movement of the 1980s. The TV show's success will depend on Lee's ability to tap into the contemporary zeitgeist as well as he captured the spirit of Brooklyn's Fort Greene neighborhood back in 1986. In an interview with Deadline, Lee promised that one element would be missing from the new series — it won't revisit the film's rape scene, which Lee now describes as "totally … stupid" and "immature."
David Lynch's Twin Peaks
Probably the most ambitious single-director series to date is David Lynch's Twin Peaks revival, set to premiere on Showtime in the first half of 2017. Lynch and his Twin Peaks co-creator Mark Frost reportedly scripted the entire series as one long narrative, breaking it up into what reportedly ended up being 18 episodes in the cutting room. Lynch directed the whole thing, working with longtime collaborators including cinematographer Peter Deming, editor Duwayne Dunham, and composer Angelo Badalamenti. And there are plenty of Lynch's old friends in front of the camera, where TP regulars including Kyle MacLachlan, Sherilyn Fenn, Madchen Amick, Russ Tamblyn, and James Marshall are joined by such newcomers to the saga as Jeremy Davies, Sky Ferreira, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Trent Reznor, and Naomi Watts. Let's say this: it better be good. (But even if it's terrible it will probably be fascinating.)
Steven Soderbergh's Mosaic
It's not clear what Mosaic is, exactly. A limited series? A TV movie? In a prepared statement, Soderbergh suggested it will be unlike any other HBO project. "I believe the good people at HBO are genuinely enthusiastic about Mosaic for two reasons: first, it represents a fresh way of experiencing a story and sharing that experience with others; second, it will require a new Emmy category, and we will be the only eligible nominee." It was originally described in press reports as a "Choose Your Own Adventure" drama with alternate endings that can change based on audience interaction. Soderbergh tweeted a flat denial of those details. So what makes Mosaic such an unusual project? "It's going to be very confusing for people until they see it," Soderbergh said in an interview with IndieWire. The most recent news came from an Independent interview with electronic musician David Holmes, who called it a "six-part TV film" starring Sharon Stone and Beau Bridges that's "very clever and brilliant." It's expected to appear sometime in 2017, along with Soderbergh's return to feature filmmaking, Logan Lucky.
Paolo Sorrentino's The Young Pope
Italian director Paolo Sorrentino (known for the Academy Award-winning The Great Beauty) is directing all 10 episodes of The Young Pope, starring Jude Law (above) as the fictional Pope Pius XIII and Diane Keaton as an American nun living in Vatican City. Sorrentino has described it as "a long movie." The first two episodes debuted out of competition at the Venice Film Festival, an indication of the project's expected international appeal. It premieres this month in Italy, Germany and the U.K., and comes to the U.S. via HBO in February 2017.
Cary Fukunaga's Maniac, Napoleon, and Christodora
HBO's smash hit True Detective was technically the brainchild of creator and screenwriter Nic Pizzolato, but when the second season of the anthology drama proved to be a massive letdown compared to the first, much of the credit was retroactively assigned to Cary Fukunaga, who directed all eight first-season episodes featuring that iconic Matthew McConaughey performance. Since then Fukunaga made a feature film, Beasts of No Nation, but he's gravitating back to TV. Maniac is a 10-episode Netflix project starring Jonah Hill and Emma Stone that's based on a Norwegian TV series about the wild fantasy life of a man who's confined to a mental institution. He's also working up a limited series based on the novel Christodora, about the history and legacy of the AIDS crisis in New York City. And, oh yeah, he's attached to direct a little HBO miniseries called Napoleon, which would bring years of research and development work by none other than Stanley Kubrick to fruition under the watchful eye of producer Steven Spielberg. Can all three of these projects possibly come to fruition? Maybe. If any of them do, it will probably be worth making time for.
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