There’s more good TV now than ever before.
Granted, there’s more TV, period, than ever before — a record 495 original scripted series aired in 2018, according to a survey by FX Networks — but the quality is almost absurdly high.
That’s thanks in large part to the phenomenon of the limited series and the movie talent that has been willing to take a chance on short bursts of creative freedom. The latest, “I Am the Night” (9 p.m. Monday, TNT), a six-episode period piece about real-life Sparks teen Fauna Hodel and her search for her birth parents, reunites “Wonder Woman” director Patty Jenkins with that movie’s co-star, Chris Pine.
It’s a relationship similar to the one behind HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” which saw Reese Witherspoon reteam with her “Wild” director, Jean-Marc Vallee. Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern and Shailene Woodley signed on for what was intended to be a limited series. After its surprising renewal, this year’s second season will bring Meryl Streep into the fold.
Vallee also helmed HBO’s “Sharp Objects,” which lured Amy Adams, who just scored her sixth Oscar nomination, this one for her work as Lynne Cheney in “Vice,” to the small screen.
HBO doesn’t hold a monopoly on these, even though its anthology “True Detective” has attracted Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, Rachel McAdams, Colin Farrell, Vince Vaughn and Mahershala Ali, an Oscar winner for “Moonlight” and a nominee again this year for “Green Book.”
Billy Bob Thornton, Kirsten Dunst and Ewan McGregor have toplined FX’s “Fargo.” Emma Stone and Jonah Hill starred in Netflix’s 10-episode “Maniac.” Julia Roberts turned her one season of Amazon’s “Homecoming” into a Golden Globe nomination.
And that’s all before Apple bursts into the streaming content business later this year with series and limited events starring Chris Evans, Jason Momoa, Octavia Spencer and a single series, set at a TV morning show, starring Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston and Steve Carell.
As for “I Am the Night,” Pine segues effortlessly to television as Jay Singletary, a broken reporter who’s barely making a living by taking scandalous photos of starlets in Malibu beach houses and sneaking into a morgue to photograph a dismembered corpse.
Singletary had been a star. At 18, he was a full-time reporter for the L.A. Times. Then he crossed the wrong power broker with a story that would cost him his career and nearly ruin a newspaper. Branded “fake news” before that was a thing, he’s been reduced to a social life filled with junkies looking for a fix.
Granted, one of those junkies knows about Martin Luther and his “Disputation on the Power of Indulgences,” so that’s a plus.
Convinced he was right all those years ago and desperate to prove it, Singletary reopens his investigation into the prominent doctor who caused his downfall. Along the way, he crosses paths with Hodel (India Eisley), the Nevada teen fresh off the bus who’s looking for answers about her past.
No spoilers, but if you aren’t familiar with the story of the Hodels, it’s cuh-razy. Let’s just say, of the many pitfalls you could encounter inside a casino, adopting a white lady’s mixed-race granddaughter inside a bathroom in 1950 should rank near the top.
Of all the Hollywood comic book Chrises — including Evans, Pratt and Hemsworth — Pine seems the best-suited to dabbling in television.
Rumpled and downplaying his pretty-boy looks — “What happened to your face?” he’s asked after one of several violent altercations. His response? “Everything.” — Pine isn’t exactly a chameleon. You’re rarely not aware you’re watching the once and possibly future Captain Kirk let his freak flag fly, but he seems to be having the time of his life.
Unless he’s a far better actor than he’s ever been credited as, this bodes well for his future endeavors.
After all, it’s not like TV is going to be running out of marquee series anytime soon.