Television – the Way of the Future, House of Cards and True Detective Raise the Bar

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It’s the heat of Oscar season and all anyone can talk about is House of Cards and True Detective. When did it become all about TV? It’s hard to say when but television has provided a global community in ways that film can’t quite match. David Fincher’s Netflix series House of Cards has revolutionized how production companies roll out TV shows but it has done more than that. Not only does House of Cards offer a seamless array of diverse cast members – women, African Americans, Asians – it does this without breaking a sweat, proving that it really is about how minds open and close that determines casting, not a white-centric ticket-buying audience or television viewership. Moreover, two of the episodes from House of Cards Season 2, are directed by women – Jodie Foster and Robin Wright. The strongest characters on the show are easily the women. Anyone who binge-watched the show recognizes this – and not girly women, straight up, strong, adult women.

While it’s true that television affords that luxury more than film – the power center isn’t determined, as is the Oscar race, by a mostly oldish, white male consensus. Television is more democratic. Film relies only on the box office numbers, particularly opening weekend. House of Cards, for instant, is simply not beholden to that crippling restriction. Art is flourishing on television. It is dying on film, where the box office is being driven only by big effects movies, dumb comedies, and the occasional Oscar movie. There are directors who are still making vital films worth seeing but a dumbed American public buying tickets on opening weekend should not be the determining factor is what kinds of films Hollywood makes. And yet…it is.

House of Cards is so good, both Season One and Season Two, it really does upstage almost everything else out there, including films. I would be very nervous about the future of Hollywood if I were the five white guys in suits who run things. Time for a power shift, a perspective alteration, a surgical procedure.

Meanwhile, True Detective has also taken the TV watching world by storm. Breaking Bad and Mad Men really started this kind of hero worship thing that goes on — making icons out of bad guys. We have a lot of hate in our hearts out here in audience land so it is no wonder why we go so headlong for the bad guys. We love them so much we don’t even want them to be bad. Don Draper is the coolest guy ever and Walter White? Forget about it.

Sure, it’s possible that this anti-hero worship is born out of the rampant political correctness that has all but strangled the life out of every other thing so that the central male figure has no choice but to act out. Things were so much better back when our dads were alcoholic womanizers and women were secretaries, mistresses or wives. That is the spine that has defined so much of American culture for so long its death rattle is resounding.

Unlike Breaking Bad and Mad Men, House of Cards and True Detective do not seek to make secret heroes out of its stars. They are going to be icons nonetheless. Like Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street we throw ourselves at the feet of ferocious sociopaths.

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While True Detective is comfortable in its mode of traditional male anti-heroes, where women are wives, whores and victims in House of Cards it seems to be clear that women really are people too, capable of the wide array of human emotions the male characters are. You might say this is yet more political correctness but really, what political correctness tends to do is only allow for “good” female characters to be portrayed; the argument that Wolf of Wall Street doesn’t portray any women in a positive light does a disservice to women, I think, as whole human beings. Such is not the attitude of David Fincher, and House of Cards, which affords its female characters equal time to be as fucked up, successful, power hungry, horny, desperate, and imperfect as the men.

Our default position is the traditional approach, what True Detective offers us. It is such a good show, like Breaking Bad and Mad Men, that it really doesn’t matter. There is so much freedom in television one need not impose politically correct restrictions upon it – to do so is once again to stomp out its potential. To complain that Girls does not offer up enough minorities is a fair complaint, but it also overlooks what Girls does offer – a quiet revolution but one that is here to stay. The way Lena Dunham expresses herself, both creatively and sexually, is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in film or TV. That she exists at all, that she shows herself to be comfortable with her own body and her imperfections gives women and girls an alternative view. She’s so far the only one who’s done it on film and now on television. Good luck getting anyone in Hollywood on a major scale to agree to same.

Is it any wonder that people are talking more about television? Even in a year when we are possibly looking at the first time a film directed by a black man, from the point of view of the slaves, to win Best Picture – maybe even Best Director – the film world still seems to dependent upon the “whatever 13 year-old boys will like” model. We cannot afford, at a time when, for the first time in Oscar history, we’re looking at handing out Best Director to a non-American for the fourth consecutive year, to only look at that dumbed down bottom line.

It’s time for the studio heads to really start thinking outside the box, to not only save film from its unfortunate future, but to keep the institution of cinema vital, memorable, essential.

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5 comments

  1. Rotwinsky 5 years ago

    Sasha, have you watched Orange is the new black? It is even better than House of Cards and it has a cast comprised solely of women and multiracial to boot..Some of the most complex female characters on tv.You would love it!

  2. Craig 5 years ago

    I 100% agree with you here Sasha. House of Cards and True Detective are at the top of my TV watching pile and I’m relishing each episode. I think that TV’s format-its smaller screen, its episodic nature, generally smaller budget-gives more freedom for risks to be taken. It’s not as big a deal/embarrassment if a TV pilot fails to get picked up than a movie flops on its opening weekend as it’s on a much smaller stage. One could argue that TV has bigger balls than film but I don’t necessarily think this is true; it’s just given more room to swing them around.

  3. Filipe 5 years ago

    Really? I like House of Cards, but other than the distribution model, it doens’t revolutionize anything on storytelling, it’s just empty people doing empty stuff for power, of course, with strong acting and writing and directing. The Sopranos, Mad Men and Breaking Bad are real revolutionaries on TV, IMO.

  4. Alec 5 years ago

    Don’t agree that Breaking Bad wanted to make a hero out of Walter White any more than WOWS wanted to make Belfort a hero. You can’t control public perception, but I would say that his wife and brother in law became the true heroes of the show and both paid the price for it, not unlike our subway riding FBI agent in WOWS.

    Michelle Maclaren has been directing episodes of BB for years(the best ones in my opinion) and I can’t wait to see her direct a live action film. Anna Gunn was as strong as any character on that show and only got the shit treatment from idiot fanboys who wanted to be Walter White.

  5. Brandon 5 years ago

    “Breaking Bad and Mad Men really started this kind of hero worship thing that goes on — making icons out of bad guys.”

    Uhhhh. The Sopranos? Dexter? LOST (Benjamin Linus)? Have ya heard of any of those iconic shows featuring iconic bad guys that were most definitely worshiped as much if not more than Don Draper and/or Walter White?

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