“True Detective” is HBO’s latest salvo in the war for critical and Emmy dominance, and boy, is it a weird show. It’s currently in its first season on the premium cable network, and the creators of the show intend it to be what’s known as an “anthologized” television show–if you’re like me and hadn’t heard the term before, “anthologized” means that each season/iteration of the show will be focused on a different plot.
In “True Detective,” this means that each season will be covering a different fictional case and the subsequent investigation thereof. If you’re a fan of the show “American Horror Story” on FX, then you’ll recognize the format.
Still, the fact it’s an anthology is honestly one of the least weird things about it, though. I’m a bit surprised HBO went to the pain of casting two big-time A-list actors in Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey for just one season. If they followed in the footsteps of “The Sopranos,” “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men” or “Game of Thrones,” you would expect them to slowly build up an audience while encouraging new fans to catch up on the series via their excellent HBOGo service.
In fact, my pet theory for the reason why these continual, narrative-focused shows are becoming more and more popular is because they are meant to be consumed more like novels rather than television. I know there have been many novels that have been published in serial form in magazines and periodicals, but releasing long-form content like “True Detective” one episode at a time kind of disrespects what the medium is capable of. I love how Netflix is releasing its original content seasons at a time. Being able to watch a television show on one’s terms should be as natural a reflex as reading a book on one’s terms is.
The writer and executive producer of the show, Nic Pizzolatto, may understand this potential more than most. In an unusual move for a television writer, Pizzolatto has chosen to write the entire first season all by himself. But it should be natural from him; he’s a well-regarded fiction writer that’s published several books and short stories. Visual media is a much different beast than writing a book, but there’s no reason why people ought to be capable of writing a 500-page book and not 500 pages of screenplay. Yet the idea has been relatively untested in television. Aaron Sorkin is about the only one I can think of who came even close to such an output on “The West Wing,” and even he had a team of writers to help him out. I look forward to more writers to take a stab at doing this. Certainly the executive producers of shows have a huge say on the production of the content, but it would be great if writers took the challenge of writing an entire season or series. I think it would do more to reinvigorate the concept of the novel at this point than any book.