Does Overspeculation About Casting Hurt a TV Show's Chances of Success?
Short answer, yes.
Weeks before Rust Cohle and Marty Hart even realized Carcosa was a very real shop of horrors located in Louisiana and not just the mind of a deranged serial killer, True Detective fans were already lighting up the Internet with rumors about the casting choices for the second season. Would Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson return, despite HBO's insistence that each season was self-contained? Would the two leads be women? Was Jessica Chastain moving around her work schedule to make it happen? The rumors were already at such a fever pitch while the show was airing, that the biggest mystery no longer seemed to be who exactly the Yellow King was, but rather, who would carry the mantle on during next season's atrocities. But as social media allows fans, bloggers, and entertainment journalists alike unlimited access and audience to endlessly dissect casting choices on their favorite shows and movies, it begs a larger question: is overspeculation hurting entertainment, before a project is even out of the gate?
When Vulture reported earlier this week that True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto had told NPR's "To The Best of our Knowledge" that the upcoming season would be set in Los Angeles and have three brand-new leads, the casting furor was once more reignited. The news came just 10 days after Nerdist reported that Jessica Chastain had been offered a lead role, only for her representatives and HBO, and mere hours later Chastain herself, to deny the claims and state that the actress would not be joining the show. In the days since the three-lead theory was announced by Pizzolatto, Deadline has reported basically every gritty and interesting A-lister as a serious candidate: Brad Pitt, Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, Michael Fassbender, Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, and Taylor Kitsch are among the few that fans are convinced will be filling McConaughey and Harrelson's shoes. But now that die-hard fans are already speculating what a Bale-Pitt-Blanchett (or any permutation, really) would look like, it's getting harder to imagine them actually being satisfied with the final product when it airs, simply based on the unrealistic expectations being placed via casting rumors.
When HBO first released the trailer for True Detective, back in September of last year (a simpler time, when I was innocent enough to think that step-siblings generally had normal, functioning relationships), there wasn't much fanfare. The buzz around Matthew McConaughey 2.0, Serious Actor, hadn't quite yet built up around his performance in Dallas Buyers Club, and Woody was, well, Woody. The trailer looked great and got decent buzz, but nothing even close to the fever pitch of conversation dominating the Internet as casting has begun to ramp up for the second season. And yet, the show was exceptional. Sure, the writing was great, the direction was phenomenal well before the six-minute tracking shot no one can forget, but what was most exceptional? Sans fan expectations, McConaughey and Harrelson were fully able to embody their roles, without letting fans down for not fulfilling expectations put upon them well before their roles were even cast.
Superhero franchises know the curse of overexpectation all too well: when Idris Elba was cast as Norse god Heimdall in the Thor movies, the internet erupted over whether a black man could accurately depict a Norse god. Ditto Fruitvale Station actor Michael B. Jordan being cast as the Human Torch for The Fantastic Four reboot. For that matter, ditto Ben Affleck being cast as Batman (especially Ben Affleck being cast as Batman!), Adam Driver as an unnamed villain in the upcoming Star Wars franchise, and honestly, any actor or actress stepping into the roles that fans have agonized and speculated over any amount of time, small or large. Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, and Robert Downey Jr. all faced similar scrutiny when stepping into their respective roles for Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man. But you know what did incredibly well at the box office, despite major fan backlash? Oh that's right, both Captain America films, both Thor films, and however many Iron Man movies they keep churning out these days (I think a baker's dozen? I haven't not seen RDJ on a billboard since I was in college, I'm sure).
It's not to say that fans shouldn't be keenly invested in who plays the roles they hold so dear – nor is it proof that without overexpectation, actors will thrive (sorry Ben, but you're still repenting for Daredevil), but when we agonize and Twitter lobby for someone, let's say Bale, to take on the role of the lead in True Detective, will anyone be good enough if he isn't cast? If a seasoned vet, or a complete newcomer, gives the performance of a lifetime, are we measuring it against the yardstick of "all good television everywhere" or the one we concocted in our heads of "Bale/Pitt/Chastain was my first choice, but let's see what you've got too, I guess"?
As a super fan of many a TV and film franchise myself, it's been far more rewarding to reserve my judgment in life for the things that I can actually control (music choice in our office, who my friend's date that I can't stand to hang out with, etc.), than to agonize performances by actors in roles they haven't even been cast in.
Image via HBO.