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Netflix Nabs Another Big Fish: the Coen Brothers

With ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,’ the Coens get to spread their wings—and Netflix gets to give them the opportunity

'Hail, Caesar!' Photo Call - 66th Berlinale International Film Festival Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

Next year, the Coen brothers will return to an old frontier, the American West, via a new one (for them): television. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a six-episode anthology series that was announced in January, has been picked up by Netflix and will premiere in 2018. It’s the Coen brothers’ first foray into TV, as they join a laundry list of prestige directors—David O. Russell, Barry Jenkins, Spike Lee—who have made the move from big to small screen.

Written and directed by the duo, each episode will be set in the West during the frontier era and tell linked but separate stories about drifters and prospectors, traveling actors and trail bosses. The series bears the name of the first episode’s protagonist, a singing cowboy played by Tim Blake Nelson (O Brother, Where Art Thou?). James Franco, Zoe Kazan, and Ralph Ineson are also slated to appear.

The series comes right in the middle of a reinvigorated interest in Westerns, in the form of Westworld and movies like In a Valley of Violence, which combine Western tropes and modern themes. The Coen brothers probably won’t be dabbling with sentient cowboy robots, but they have shown a knack in the past for making Old West characters feel like they could be alive today. True Grit may have been set in the 1880s, but Mattie Ross’s moxie is wholly modern.

And a day after giving David Letterman a show, Netflix has once again shown that it’s willing to shell out for high level talent. “The Coens are visionary directors, masterful storytellers, and colorful linguists,” Cindy Holland, Netflix VP of original content, said in a press release. “We are thrilled for Netflix to become home to the full range of their talents.” According to Variety, the Coen brothers decided to turn this project into a Black Mirror–esque TV series rather than a movie because its scope seemed too big for a feature film; as a company that seems hungrier than ever for big names and big experimentation, Netflix is more than happy to let the Coens spread their wings and produce hours upon hours of content.

But as thrilled as Netflix may be to lock this in, it’s clear that the Coen brothers are the most excited about the project: “We are streaming motherfuckers!” they said in a press release. It was a perfect entrée to the Wild West, a land of enthusiasm, profanity, and a healthy disregard for using commas when necessary.