Each day this month (assuming I don’t get busy or bored!), I’ll reflect on a tiny sliver of pop culture that I enjoyed or appreciated this year — scenes, shots, gestures, verses, sights, sounds, moments. Today: two episodes of half-hour shows that pushed the boundaries of the form.
One of the most talked about TV moments of 2015 came at the end of the fourth episode of HBO’s True Detective: a violent and visceral eight-minute raid scene, presented in a single uninterrupted take. Some observers praised director Cary Joji Fukunaga for the technical virtuosity required to pull off a filmmaking feat of such complexity, while others dismissed the sequence as a visually dazzling distraction that lacked narrative weight or thematic depth. The blatant showmanship of the camerawork in that scene served only to flatter the audience, not to deepen its experience of the unfolding story, those critics argued.
I saw two sequences on TV this year that reminded me of that True Detective debate, but neither one got the same attention, and neither one inspired a similarly vigorous discussion. FXX’s You’re the Worst devoted most of an episode to an uninterrupted shot that carried the camera across a wedding party venue to several overlapping conversations. One night later, Pamela Adlon’s FX star vehicle Better Things dedicated a third of its first season finale to a scene showing a typical whirlwind morning in the household of Adlon’s loosely autobiographical character Sam Fox — three daughters hollering and whining; multiple visitors cluttering the messy front foyer; flirtatious messages distracting Sam from her hustle. Both of these sequences showcased their respective shows’ most appealing qualities, and both employed a technically challenging stylistic technique in service of an idea and an impact. Both were a joy to watch, even at their saddest moments.