Two of the big names circling around award season have been Oppenheimer director Christopher Nolan and Poor Things star Emma Stone, with both being recognized amongst this year’s Oscar nominees. As it turns out, the filmmaker is a huge fan of Stone’s Showtime series The Curse, which left critics impressed and baffled by its high-level cringe, to the point where he shared his praise directly with co-creators and co-stars Nathan Fielder and Benny Safdie during an on-stage event. And as a huge fan of the show myself, I'm in full agreement.
The Curse (available to stream with a Paramount+ subscription) was the subject of a recent Showtime Q&A, with Nolan moderating a spoiler-free chat with Fielder and Safdie about where the show’s concept came from, and what inspired the off-kilter storyline and the unsettling ways its characters lives played out. And the Dark Knight director wasn’t reticent with the compliments, either, starting off by calling the series “incredible,” and saying it excites him because he thinks it could only exist “in the anarchy of the streaming era,” in terms of how different it is.
Never Enough Nathan Fielder
While he spoke highly of The Curse throughout the Q&A, Christopher Nolan closed the discussion out with a string of plaudits, including the second time a reference was made to David Lynch and Mark Frost's beloved television oddity Twin Peaks. In Nolan's words:
Congratulations on an incredible show that’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen on television before. We were talking about it in the green room; there are so few shows that come along that genuinely have no precedent. I mean, you’re going back to think s like, as I said, Twin Peaks or The Prisoner, or Dennis Potter, The Singing Detective, things like that. So you’re in an amazing space, and I can’t wait for audiences to catch up with the climax.
I have to imagine it feels uniquely amazing to have one's creative efforts lauded by someone like Christopher Nolan, regardless of one's opinions about the director's filmography. It's inarguable that he's crafted some of the biggest blockbusters of the past 25 years, and has a way of pleasing giant swaths of moviegoers. So if he was interested in putting together a project that compared in any way to The Curse, studios would bend over backwards to be the ones to fund and release it.
Emma Stone and Nathan Fielder's work as the married reality TV hopefuls Whitney and Asher haven't experienced quite the same kind of widespread embrace as, say, Oppenheimer, even with the fan-pleasing trio at its center. On the one hand, that's a travesty, since it's such a one-of-a-kind experience that deserves as many eyeballs as there are Showtime and Paramount+ customers. But on the other, it's totally understandable, since the show is intentionally uncomfortable and inscrutable and presumably not ideal for the masses. (Their loss, I say.)
Earlier in the talk, when Nolan brings up Twin Peaks for the first time, he addresses precisely what makes The Curse feel so unique despite its actual story and themes not being overtly outside-the-norm. In his words:
I don’t think it’s possible to really give spoilers about this show, and one of the reasons I don’t think it’s possible is, more than any show I’ve seen probably since the first season of Twin Peaks, it’s a show where tone is the star. Tone is sort of the point in it in a way.
It's the kind of show where, if you know Fielder and Stone's characters are in weird headspaces, anything they do from that point on is drenched in tension and unease, particularly when it comes to Safdie's director/producer character Dougie, whose penchant for small-scale chaos often seems to override his hunger for success. Even if nothing exciting or surprising actually happens, The Curse can make a short walk across a parking lot feel like a Michael Mann shootout is imminent.
As one of the most esteemed directors in and beyond the Hollywood system, Christopher Nolan knows that his words hold weight with audiences, especially since he doesn't take part in press opps quite as often as others on his level. And he tends to spend a lot of that time talking about movies, his own and those made by others, without an abundance of time going to his small-screen interests. As such, it was relatively wild just to see him heading up a panel devoted specifically to a TV show.
While The Curse likely isn't destined to return for a second season, here's hoping something just as impactful will arrive on the 2024 TV schedule. And if Christopher Nolan decides that he'd like to join brother Jonathan for a new highbrow TV show, they can have all my monies.