I’m probably more tired than usual today because I had to stay up and watch the True Detective finale. As you know, this proved a bit difficult thanks to the terrible HBOGo outage of March 2014. Luckily, I triumphed over the Internet in order to see what happened to Rustin Cohle and Marty Hart in their pursuit of the mysterious Yellow King. After weeks of reading Carcosa theories and trying to pass Rust’s quotes about time off as my own, my major takeaway from True Detective is that I wish the majority of TV shows lasted just one season.
And I say this as someone who eats, sleeps, breathes and seriously dates TV. It took my complete infatuation with True Detective to make me realize the perks of only spending a limited amount of time with certain characters before moving on. It’s not that True Detective‘s model as an anthology series is a new concept – American Horror Story for example – but I am now fully on board with capping off a cast of characters at one season.
After falling out of love with many TV shows mid-run before (I’m looking at you Grey’s Anatomy, Parks and Recreation, New Girl…), it’s dawned on me that there’s many reasons I’d rather have one great season of a show, than multiple ones that were just alright (alright, alright). So listen up execs, because here’s why I want a fall TV schedule of one season wonders.
The Show Already Knows Where The Story Is Going
Let’s take a quick trip back to 2011. I started watching The Killing as an act of defiance against all my “mainstream” friends who were raving about that other show on AMC (Mad Men. Have you heard of it?). Granted, probably not the best reason to jump into a show, but you may recall the fact that Rosie Larsen’s murder wasn’t solved in the season one finale caused quite a backlash. Season two was drawn out for what seemed like no other reason than “we were allowed to make more episodes.” The lack of direction was a deal breaker.
With an unknown amount of time to tell the story, there’s a high probability it starts going in weird directions when plot ideas start wearing thin. It’s not uncommon for characters to couple up and break up in every possible combination (Grey’s Anatomy) or for an absurd number of disastrous events occur (also Grey’s Anatomy). Any show with a central mystery or investigation, should have called it a day after one season: Pretty Little Liars, Desperate Housewives, The Following, take your pick. More energy could have gone into making one amazing season rather than constantly adding unnecessary twists and turns to fuel some semblance of plot. On True Detective, I knew that after 8 episodes, this arc would end in a way the creative team intended.
There’d Be A Return To Can’t Miss, Must-See Appointment Television
I am in that minority of people who prefer and strive to watch television live. The reason though is rarely that I feel like I HAVE to see the show, but that it’s my treat at the end of a long day. It’s a very different (read: better) experience as a viewer to feel completely invested in what is going to happen that you can’t bear to put it off until their weekend DVR viewing. That’s how I felt about True Detective. When something is a “limited time only,” it ups that need to be a part of it. I’m not putting it off because I can catch up over the summer in time to revisit the gang next season. Nope, THIS IS IT. BE THERE OR BE SQUARE.
We’d Have Better Quality Shows & A Better Quantity of TV
In the case of True Detective, the concept of “detectives with complicated lives solve a mystery” isn’t exactly the single most original plot going. I’m sure this could be the basic logline for a number of procedurals, but this show was able to do it better than many of those and I think the format is a big reason why. With more one season shows coming and going, it would eliminate shows that are just lagging and instead open up more time to fill with more original, diverse, creative, exciting stories.
With less pressure to get ratings for a renewal, perhaps we’d see more creative risks. On American Horror Story, a big-name star can be killed off just like that (finger snap for emphasis). That can’t be said of shows that need their popular characters for sustained viewership. Plus, a set one season commitment may persuade high-caliber talent to pop in for a limited engagement. True Detective snagged two Oscar nominees as its leads (one of whom became a winner during its run) and all the episodes were consistently written by Nic Pizzolatto and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga. I can imagine all of these factors contributed to a very clear creative vision for the season.
Fine, There Are Exceptions
As with everything, there are caveats. I’d be a liar if I didn’t say that I love all seven seasons of 30 Rock and would have watched 17 more. I think this single season model also holds true more for dramas than comedies, which can often get by on purely being funny even if the plot is a mess (I’m looking at you The Mindy Project). And some dramas, like Breaking Bad evolved their plots in a way that still maintained that plot tension and character exploration all the way to the end. It’s just that a show that gets exponentially better with time or can sustain high-quality storytelling, is likely more the exception than the rule. The overwhelming acclaim and popularity of True Detective just seems like a natural cue to try and switch up the TV landscape.
True Detective wasn’t a perfect show. I felt that the finale tied up loose ends a little more neatly than I would have expected on a show that dealt so heavily in chaos and mystery. While a season 2 isn’t official – despite the multitude of casting pitches on Twitter, even on my most pessimistic Rust Cohle day, I’d think it’s a pretty sure bet. I’m excited for season 2 though because I expect it will be the same in the best ways – the commitment to storytelling, acting, cinematic production, intrigue – and not simply just seeing the same world and characters on screen for yet another go around because they were popular. I wish I could say that for more shows.