Tag Archives: Grantland

Recasting culture (and especially TV)







There’s a small trend in the works.  People are daring to recast popular shows on TV.   In the image above, Entertainment Weekly dares imagine the new detectives for True Detective.  Here Ryan Gosling and Denzel Washington are proposed as replacements for Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey.  (Apparently, HBO and or Nic Pizzolatto had always planned a modular approach for the starring roles.)

Digital Spy undertook the same recasting, proposing Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart as the new True Detectives.  This would count as irresistible TV, in an era of irresistible TV.

Grantland took the thing a step further, proposing a fantasy league for Hollywood.




There is a quite wonderful book called Culturematic that suggests a way to recast NCIS.

recasting NCIS






The idea is everywhere.  Ok, not everywhere, but this is a gusty little trend breezing its way through contemporary culture.

This shows a new order of participation in culture.  It’s hard to imagine this sort of thing happening in the 1950s when people took what TV deigned to give them and were grateful for it too.

But people now new and deeper knowledge of popular culture and they are eager to use this knowledge.  Exactly this sort of thing happened in the case of professional sports.  The inventors of Fantasy Football believed that only sports journalists would want to participate.  What they didn’t see was that sports fans had read so much sports journalism, that they too were itching and able to participate.

This relates I think to yesterday’s post on Pharrell’s Happy video where I suggested that crowd sourcing talent is not always successful.  But here when we ask people to engage not as actors but as critics that the chances of success go up.  Its as producers and directors that we are most interesting, productive, and engaging. 

We should also observe the presumption at work here.  One of the reasons that viewers in the 50s wouldn’t engage this way is that it was presumptuous to do so.   Creative decisions were things made by experts in big cities, people and worlds away from their own.

But now we are, to use the Tudor phrase, “over mighty subjects.”  We take for granted our  right to second-guess creative decisions.   Our knowledge of culture is not passive but active.  This means that even as we consume culture, we expect to produce it.  If only in our heads. If only in the conversation we have with friends and family.   Anyone who finds a way to engage us in this way (we shall keep an eye on Grantland’s fantasy league) is creating value for us and value for themselves.  (Thus do anthropology and economics intersect.)

Popular culture goes all Walter

As someone interested in the state of contemporary culture, I’m on the look out for evidence that things are changing…or at least that precedents have been established and long standing rules are no longer inviolable.

So I love this passage from AN ESSAY by Andrew Romano in The Daily Beast.

“Television is historically good at keeping its characters in a self-imposed stasis so that shows can go on for years or even decades,” says Breaking Bad’s creator, Vince Gilligan. “When I realized this, the logical next step was to think, how can I do a show in which the fundamental drive is toward change?” So Gilligan designed Breaking Bad to transform its hero into a villain—or, as he put it in his early pitch meetings, “Mr. Chips into Scarface.”

This breaks the contract that TV once fashioned with the viewer, that heroes were enchanted and protected from harm.  (The hero in Castle is always in harm’s way but will never come to grief.)  To visit a world in which heroes could go “all Walter,” we were obliged to abandon popular culture for art and literature.  (And no one wanted to go there.)

It’s also worth pointing out that as TV gets better, so does the criticism.  See this essay by Romano and the Chuck Klosterman’s GRANTLAND TREATMENT of Breaking Bad which explores Walter’s transformation with real intelligence and touch.

The trouble with Klosterman, for me, is that he works fearlessly, making a point, and then making all subsequent points depend on it.  There’s no modularity.  He doesn’t seal off sections of the argument.  He could care less about damage control.  He just keeps building and in no time, it’s all or nothing.  Naturally, many of the points are so good and so original that this carries the argument.  But in fact argument is shot through with discontinuities.  It has broken down and what we get (and like) is a kind of serialized illumination.  But, hey, I wish I wrote this badly.


Tom Asacker for pointing out the essay and the passage.