The coming months will see two film directors bring out TV shows, Alfonso Cuaron with Believe, and Steven Soderbergh with The Knick.
More or less since The Sopranos came out in 1999, people have been pointing out that the rise of long-running, complex TV dramas has led to perhaps the best age of television ever seen.
With 13-episode runs, over years, this form allows a uniquely sustained look at a character (as in The Sopranos) or a city (The Wire) or a time (Mad Men) or the ability to tell a complex fantasy story with different characters vying for the audiences attention and sometimes unexpectedly dying (Game of Thrones).
All the shows mentioned so far are extremely ambitious. But also, while each has its own style, none has yet been conceived by a filmmaker. 's Believe, however will change that.
The normal format for these high-budget TV shows is to have different directors take charge for an episode at a time, often crossing over from one show to another. Tim Van Patten has shot episodes of The Sopranos, Rome and Boardwalk Empire, while Neil Marshall has filmed Game of Thrones and the recent pirate drama Black Sails.
Believe will not break this format, but it is unique in that all the other shows have been created by writers - not one of the shows mentioned so far was conceived by someone who was first of all a director.
But with Soderbergh's The Knick and 's Believe, this is changing.
The implication of this - with particular focus on Cuaron - might be better explained with some clips.
First up, Tony Sopranos gets shot.
There is a lot to admire about this clip. The music is great; you are pulled into Tony's mental state. It is exciting and suspenseful. And, of course, there is the orange juice - which is a visual reference to the oranges carried by Marlon Brando when he is shot in The Godfather.
Now compare that car shooting with this one, from Cuaron's Children of Men.
In this clip we do not leave the car, and, importantly, it is all one take. There are no cuts, whereas in The Sopranos (a significantly shorter clip) there are more than 30. The sense of claustrophobia we get when we are forced to share the same time frame as the characters, and cannot see anything unavailable to them, is extreme.
Cuaron might not be the only one wanting to bring a new visual spectacle to TV, though. There are signs it is already happening. Much attention was given to the final shot of a recent episode of True Detective.
Again this is a single long shot, though this time it weaves in and out of what the character can see. We still get the sense of this happening is real time ("meet me in 90 seconds") but the overall sense is more of creating an impressive spectacle than the less staged shot Children of Men, which feels more random and spontaneous. , Cuaron's co-director once said
I was disappointed that with Children of Men, people noticed that the car scene was one shot with no cuts. If people notice that, it's like they're noticing my trick, you know what I mean? I'm doing it so people will get immersed in the movie, not to show off.
Which brings us to Believe, the new series from Alfonso Cuaron.
There are elements of this show that might seem a bit over familiar. In the first-look trailer below, we see a girl with supernatural powers screaming and inadvertently using her abilities - something audiences have seen a thousand times.
There is, however, right at the beginning of the trailer, another inside car shot. Again we don't leave the car, again there is the sense claustrophobia and powerlessness. Check it out here:
Perhaps this trailer alone isn't that much to go on, and Cuaron himself has attempted to play down expectations of this series only being about its visual spectacle:
At the end of the day, it's not only about the cinematic approach. It's the emotional core of the show," Cuaron says. "I think that what is really, really the core of the show is the emotional one. Pretty much it's a story of the family.
However, if Cuaron shows the level of visual experimentation here that he did in Gravity, could this be the beginning of a new direction in TV?
An extended clip for the first episode has been released. Check it out and see what you think:
What do you think? Might this series be the start of something new in TV? Or will it only be another -produced thriller that hooks its audience with cliffhangers but doesn't try anything significantly new?