As you may or may not have heard, TV is “where it’s at” at the moment. Storytelling is flourishing on the small screen, and while some of the shows that ushered in this New Golden Age have since concluded (eg. Mad Men, Breaking Bad), there’s still plenty of fascinating and engaging shows to be found. Which is why some directors who have found great success in the film world are flocking to the small screen. I called it “the True Detective effect” in an editorial I penned last year, referring to Cary Fukunaga’s choice to direct every episode of that show’s first season as a watershed moment that influenced folks like Steven Soderbergh and David Fincher to make the move to TV with the intention of directing not just one or two episodes of a show, but an entire season.
Soderbergh is doing incredible things on The Knick, and while Fincher dipped his toes into the water with House of Cards, he intended to follow suit with Utopia at HBO. Unfortunately, creative differences led to Fincher departing that series last month.
But the fact remains that television is an enviable place for many accomplished filmmakers, and it appears that not even David Cronenberg could escape its allure—however brief the flirtation may have been. In an interview with Indiewire, the Videodrome director reveals that he was offered the chance to direct the first episode of True Detective Season 2, but he turned it down for a pretty solid reason:
“The heat is in TV. Last year I was approached to direct the first episode of the second season of True Detective, I considered it but I thought that the script was bad, so I didn’t do it. In TV, the director is just a traffic cop, but on the other hand it is work and there’s a lot of it.”
Indeed, Season 2 of True Detective was a monumental step down in quality from the show’s first season, and I say this as someone who marginally enjoyed the second season. What was clearly lacking was a strong creative type to work opposite showrunner Nic Pizzolatto, and one imagines Cronenberg would’ve turned out something fascinating had he come onboard. Ultimately, Justin Lin helmed the first two episodes of the second season and they were disappointingly devoid of character. That formula followed suit for the remainder of the episodes as Pizzolatto solidified himself as the show’s primary creative voice.
However, I’d take issue with Cronenberg’s assertion that TV directors are traffic cops. That’s certainly true of most network series and was traditionally correct, but more and more filmmakers have been putting a larger stamp on the material, as with Soderbergh’s The Knick on Cinemax. One imagines the upcoming return of Twin Peaks, directed by David Lynch, will be similarly filmmaker-driven. Hopefully Cronenberg will come around someday and tackle something from TV’s new Golden Age that’s a bit better than True Detective Season 2.