Episodic. Is this the new catch-all term for what we used to call TV shows? That seems to be the thinking behind SXSW’s decision to feature such content alongside traditional movie screenings, as the boundaries between film, television and online become increasingly shaky.
The Episodic section of the schedule marked the first time TV has been given the screening treatment at the zeitgeist-catching Austin, Texas festival and it launched with a strong line-up of six shows which between them illustrate both the increasing quality and production values of TV, as well as the myriad ways it now finds its way across the globe.
Most obviously challenging the orthodoxy is Deadbeat, a supernatural comedy debuting exclusively on Hulu. Tyler Labine stars as a scruffy psychic who uses his abilities to work on behalf of New York’s dispossessed spirits who have unfinished business. Veteran TV sitcom director Troy Miller, who helmed Deadbeat’s pilot, explained the excitement of working for a digital-only platform. “There’s a creative passion there that not a lot of other broadcasters have,” Miller told USA Today. “They’re hiring people and hiring companies that are still creatively exciting.”
Episodic. Is this the new catch-all term for what we used to call TV shows? That seems to be the thinking behind SXSW’s decision to feature such content alongside traditional movie screenings.
Another show screening at SXSW straddles both traditional and digital. From Dusk Till Dawn is a ten episode remake of the 1996 Robert Rodriguez movie, which starred George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino, who also wrote the script. The show airs in the US on Rodriguez’s own El Rey cable network, but is presented in overseas territories as a Netflix Original, with episodes becoming available just after US broadcast.
Other shows demonstrated how talent now flows fluidly from the big screen to the small. Showtime’s gothic thriller Penny Dreadful, in which literary characters such as Dracula, Frankenstein and Dorian Gray live among normal people in Victorian London, arrives courtesy of producer and writer John Logan and executive producer Sam Mendes, who previously collaborated on Skyfall. Episode directors include J.A. Bayona, who helmed The Impossible, while the cast includes movie stars such as Josh Hartnett, Eva Green and Timothy Dalton.
Fox’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, an update of the seminal Carl Sagan popular science series from the 1980s, shows that even factual content can attract big name and big screen talent, with comedy writer-director Seth McFarlane executive producing, while the show’s many CG scenes come from Hollywood effects houses.
Where once such shows would have been previewed for industry only, their acceptance as a vital component of a thriving media festival says a lot about where “television” is headed.
And that’s before you get to the shows debuting at SXSW which take technology itself as their central theme. HBO’s comedy Silicon Valley marks the return of Beavis & Butthead creator Mike Judge to TV, while AMC’s Hold and Catch Fire takes a more dramatic approach, looking to do for the 1980s computer industry what Mad Men did for 1960s advertising.
Any one of these shows would make for a useful case study on the changing face of TV, but what is most revealing is their shared berth at SXSW. Where once such shows would have been previewed for industry only, behind closed doors, their acceptance as a vital component of a thriving media festival alongside movies, tech and music says a lot about where “television” is headed.