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Want to Make a Great TV Show? Don't Forget the Boobs.

Photo of Sam Adams By Sam Adams | Criticwire March 6, 2014 at 5:08PM

"True Detective" creator Nic Pizzolatto says HBO and other premium networks have a "mandate" for female nudity.
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Kate Aurthur has a great interview with "True Detective" creator Nic Pizzolatto at BuzzFeed, which among other things puts paid to the idea that either Rust Cohle or Marty Hart is the Yellow King, denies that the show's conclusion will have a supernatural tinge, and disappointingly reveals that he plans to abandon the single-director format for its second season. But the sections that jump out most involve Pizzolatto's response to criticisms of the show's misogyny (or meta-misogyny) and what he reveals about the industrial model that makes a show like "True Detective" possible:

The gender criticism was expected, but it seems very knee-jerk in the total context of what we did here and what the show is supposed to be. It’s easy to use such a political concern as a blunt, reductive instrument to rob the material and performances of their nuances. But there was no way to tell this story, in this structure, without that being an easy mark for someone looking for something to criticize...

The staging [of the sex scenes] was more or less there in the scripts, and then Cary and I worked together on the execution. But there is a clear mandate in pay-cable for a certain level of nudity. Now, you’re not going to get our two lead movie stars to go full-frontal, but we at least got Matthew's butt in there. There’s not a great deal of nudity in the series at all, though, compared to other shows on pay-cable. I’d be happy with none. Seems to me if people want to see naked people doing it, there's this thing called "the internet."

The idea that feminist criticism is "a blunt, reductive instrument" is mildly infuriating, but all credit to Pizzolatto for not passing the buck when it comes to the show's gratuitous use of female nudity, or for apologizing, exactly, for the fact that show's older, more famous men have the power to rebuff suggestions they drop trou, while actresses like Alexandra Daddario and Lili Simmons do not. These are, as a progenitor of Rust's and Marty's might have put it, just the facts, ma'am.

You have to think someone somewhere along the line -- perhaps one of those famous male movie stars -- could have pointed out the superfluousness of these scenes. (Woody Harrelson: "We're shooting this why, again?") But the problem, as Maureen Ryan pointed out in her essential piece about the diversity, or extreme lack thereof, in HBO's talent pool, is much bigger than any show. Time's James Poniewozik adds:

It would be easier to make the case for nudity as a dramatically necessary way of representing life if not for quotes like Pizzolatto’s suggesting that cable networks do feel obligated to deliver a Minimum Daily Requirement of Butts. Nor is this the first time that suggestion has come up; in a 2012 interview, a "Game of Thrones" director described being on set and having an (unnamed) executive producer urge him to deliver the goods: "'Look, I represent the pervert side of the audience, okay? Everybody else is the serious drama side -- I represent the perv side of the audience, and I'm saying I want full frontal nudity in this scene.' So you go ahead and do it."

The problem isn't solely director Neil Marshall, who by his own account, went ahead and "did it," or even the unnamed executive, who though a pig, is either enabled or actively encouraged by the people above him. (Marshall's account doesn't specify gender, but let's just take a guess.) As Pizzolatto points out, it's hard to fathom that people might watch TV shows for the partial nudity when the internet offers hot and cold running boobies at the touch of a trackpad. But then that same internet also disseminates screencaps of that nudity, converting even a fleeting glimpse of nip into a frozen eternity and turning any number of horny users into eager viewers. (You ever notice how nude scenes accidentally leak right before a movie comes out? Guess who does the leaking.) 

To be fair, the boobs + brains model goes way back, at least as far as the 1960s, when self-styled intellectuals were lured to "art" films by the T&A American cinema wasn't allowed to showcase. And if it gets shows like "True Detective" and "Game of Thrones" made, there are worse ways to skin a cat. The problem, as Ryan's article points out, is the shows that don't get made, or renewed. How many (more) boobs would have gotten us a forth season of "Deadwood," or a third of "Enlightened"?

This article is related to: True Detective


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