Oct 2, 2020
What If Every Show Used A True Detective-Style Cinematic Tracking Shot?
The most effective way for a television show or a film to garner unreserved praise is to end with a hugely ambitious tracking shot. If properly executed, all other weaknesses are swept away. Last week, the same phenomenon happened with “True Detective.” The big tracking shot was such a great roller coaster ride that the line to get in was forgotten. And nine times out of ten, a discussion of Children of Men will be about that film’s enormous tracking shot.
It’s reductive to call a sequence like that a gimmick, but it feels like cheating. It works suspiciously well. It seems that no matter the show’s quality, it will become instantly canonized if the tracking shot does its job well. So, can a tracking shot of suitable scope and ambition render a show’s previous missteps irrelevant? Let’s see!
This show is often criticized, probably, for adhering to a very white, urban feminism that is ultimately exclusionary. This problem can easily be addressed and indeed eliminated completely with a 6-minute tracking shot. Obviously it is a challenge to orchestrate a plausible scenario for such a thing while staying true to the show’s voice, but it can be done.
For research, I watched the most recent episode. Go me. Lena Dunham works at GQ doing ad copy, which is infringing on her innate need to pursue the career she actually wants: creative writing. She also seems to have a frigid, unsympathetic boss who will not miss her when she’s gone, which makes her feel like a cog in the machine. And that’s all we need to know.
In the tracking shot sequence, a Random House executive goes to see Dunham’s frigid boss, and Dunham abandons her cubicle, running as fast as she can to overhear the conversation. She hears the important parts. “Want to give her a book deal.” “Not as long as she’s working at GQ, damn it.” Then she runs back to her cubicle and pretends to look at her computer as the executive heads to the elevator. She decides to pursue. The camera follows her down the stairwell as frantic drum and bass music plays.
She trips and falls down one flight of stairs. Her hair is tattered and her clothes are torn but her resolve is unflinching, and she makes it to the downstairs lobby. She sees the executive rounding the corner and begins pursuit, as a police officer begins chasing her. “SELF-ACTUALIZATION IS IMPOSSIBLE, LENA DUNHAM,” he yells, but Dunham’s integrity is unbreakable as she darts through the crowded, disapproving streets of New York City and sees the executive in a taxi. She steals a bicycle and gives chase. She cuts through a back alley and collides with the taxi, getting thrown across the hood. The executive rushes to see if she’s okay. “Get in, Lena. I’m giving you a book deal immediately.” Cut to black, roll credits. Bam. Easy.
This show is in season, what, 7? Is anybody still actively watching this? Don’t answer that. They will be if it has an amazing 6-minute tracking shot. I grant this is logistically problematic for a show like Mad Men, because it’s a period piece and a sufficiently awe-inspiring tracking shot needs to cover a lot of ground. I suggest ignoring the problem by setting this scene, and this scene alone, in the modern day. Have Don Draper deal with the realities of 2014 America for a few minutes. Show the world what a cautionary tale he really is.
It may slightly break the fourth wall, but everything is meta in television these days, and it’s high time “Mad Men” started getting more contemporary.
The Big Bang Theory:
Admittedly, some aesthetic compromises were necessary to provide the previous shows with the critical momentum of an amazing tracking shot. They were reasonable compromises, but they were rocky victories. But with “The Big Bang Theory,” no aesthetic compromises are needed to make this gimmick work. The only difficulty of implementing this strategy with Big Bang is that the sequence, because of its sheer scope, must be pre-taped, and a laugh track will need to be used in lieu of a studio audience.
Leonard and Sheldon desperately want to go to the International Convention of Epic Science in Pasadena, but an invitation has cruelly been denied them. So they devise a clever (albeit somewhat nerdy) strategy to gain entry: they will steal one million dollars from a Texas cocaine dealer.
The entry plan is simple: they will kick the door down, Leonard will go look for the money, and Sheldon will force the dealer into the master bedroom and intimidate him with a Colt .45. If it becomes necessary to extract the money’s location by force, he will do so. But as Leonard and Sheldon soon discover, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.
Leonard staggers out of the house, with Sheldon limping along. Leonard has obviously been using, and he keeps twitching and jolting his shoulders, breathing too heavily and muttering obscenities as Sheldon starts to pass out. They keep limping along for 3 blocks, about 15 seconds ahead of detection. Leonard shakes Sheldon. “Stay with me, buddy. You gotta put that money in the trunk for me now. I can’t take you to a hospital, but you’re gonna be okay. I got a guy in Juarez who can fix you right up, and it’s gonna be great, and we’ll go to Pasadena…It’s really your fault, pal, for wasting a hostage like that. But you know, just put the money right there, just toss it in the…” he says with manic speed, before Sheldon uses his last ounce of energy to shoot Leonard in the gut. And as the sirens get louder and the sun begins to rise, he whispers one last thing in Leonard’s ear. “Bazinga.”