Yes indeed, filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen are actually coming to television. Unlike FX’s Fargo, which is based on a Coen brothers film but has no involvement from the Oscar-winning writer/directors, Joel and Ethan are writing and directing a new Western anthology series called The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, meaning the next Coen brothers project is a TV series. The anthology hails from Annapurna Television, which is an offshoot of Megan Ellison’s stellar production arm Annapurna Pictures, and the plan is to pursue “an innovative television and theatrical integrated approach,” meaning some portion of the series will likely get a theatrical release. The show is not yet set up at a network, but one imagines every network under the sun will be bending over backwards to land this Coen brothers series.
There are no further details beyond the fact that The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a Western anthology and will be written, directed, and produced by Joel and Ethan Coen with Ellison and Sue Naegle executive producing, but really that’s all the selling point you need. Don’t even bother with a trailer—I’m sold.
This is immensely exciting news, as the Coens are two of the greatest American filmmakers of all time. They’re coming off of the Hollywood-centric comedy Hail, Caesar! and before that crafted one of their best features yet, Inside Llewyn Davis, but a move to television is wholly unexpected.
And yet, it probably shouldn’t be. Auteur-driven TV has been growing in popularity over the last few years, as directors like David Fincher and Steven Soderbergh have made the move to television. Some, like Soderbergh, have taken “auteur” to the next level by directing every single episode of said series (in Soderbergh’s case, the phenomenal Cinemax show The Knick). David O. Russell is doing the same with a star-studded new show set up at Amazon, and Woody Allen recently teamed up with that streaming service for his TV series debut Crisis in Six Scenes.
It’s unclear what route the Coens will take, but it’s hard to imagine them not directing every episode of the anthology series—at least for the first season. They’re no strangers to the Western genre with the masterpiece No Country for Old Men and the nostalgic 2010 effort True Grit under their belts, and it’s nice to know that Annapurna intends to at least make some portion of the series available on the big screen. Assuming regular cinematographer Roger Deakins is at the helm, it’d be a shame not to take in a new Coen brothers western in the movie theater.
Ellison founded Annapurna Pictures five years ago with a mission to craft sophisticated, high-quality content, and she succeeded wildly. The company’s first features included The Master, Zero Dark Thirty, Spring Breakers, and Her, and they’ve recently diversified even more with critically acclaimed films like Sausage Party and 20th Century Women. On the docket still to come are Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, Bigelow’s untitled Detroit project, and Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs, and now Annapurna TV is starting to take off in a big, big way.
Now the question becomes, which network will The Ballad of Buster Scruggs end up at? Amazon has become the current go-to for auteurs, but Netflix has a larger subscriber base. And while it’s a little “old school” in comparison to the hip new streaming services, HBO still carries an air of prestige. Wherever it ends up, this has now become one of the most anticipated projects currently in development.