As great as life can be with one series from Vince Gilligan on the air, one can only imagine that having two of them at the same time would result in a Peak TV ouroboros. We'll get to find out in the future, as the Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul creator is teaming up with Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer for a dark HBO drama centering on the Jonestown Massacre. If there's a more surefire recipe for success and critical acclaim, I haven't seen it.
Octavia Spencer is the spearheader of Raven, which will take on a limited series format, as she years ago optioned the source material Raven: The Untold Story of Jim Jones and his People, written by journalist Tim Reiterman. It will take a deep look at the Peoples Temple cult started by the charismatic and persuasive Jim Jones, who took his unstable ideals to depressing heights by pulling together hundreds of followers who were almost all otherwise perfectly normal and non-cultish people.
Raven, like the nonfiction book, will unravel the hazy story of how so many people came to follow Jones in the first place. And considering Reiterman is one of the relatively few survivors from the 1978 mass suicide in Guyana, the legitimacy of what makes it to the screen should be quite high. Especially since Vince Gilligan will be the one writing the entire limited series. He'll also be executive producing alongside Spencer, who is not being courted to acting in the drama at this point. Hopefully that changes, as she makes every project better. And for comparison's sake as far as dark subject matter goes, Spencer's last leading TV role was a show about hospitalized kids.
What, you say you need yet another top-quality name with this already exciting project? According to Deadline, Emmy-winning director Michelle MacLaren will be the one behind the camera for all of the episodes. MacLaren, who started her career with an episode of the Vince Gilligan-employed series The X-Files, is very well known among TV fanatics for directing many of Breaking Bad's best episodes, as well as memorable installments of The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones and Better Call Saul, to name a few.
So now we know Raven is going to both look great and be complex and interesting, but why would they possibly announce this project without already having someone cast as Jim Jones? Why would they put that kind of speculation power in our hands with all those Breaking Bad actors to talk about? It's too bad Aaron Paul is currently heading up the cult-infused Hulu series The Path, as he could have been a great choice for this. (But he's amazing in The Path, so it's okay.) HBO series rarely pull off noteworthy miscastings, so I cannot wait to learn who earns this high-profile part. But seriously, get Dean Norris as a cop or something.
HBO could not be doing a better job of killing it recently. Westworld looks to be the next great sci-fi series, we've got more Curb Your Enthusiasm coming, and even Robert Downey, Jr. wants in on the cable network's original series. No one is going to drink the Kool Aid (or any of its more economical substitutions) when there's this much good TV happening. Now let's get comfortable waiting on Season 3 of Better Call Saul.