Game Of Thrones may not be coming back until 2019, but HBO isn't shirking on innovative prestige programming in the meantime: on Jan. 22, the channel will be unveiling an exciting new show from Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Soderbergh (Traffic). But how many episodes is Mosaic? How long will viewers have to enjoy Soderbergh's twisty mystery? The bad news is, Mosaic will be over before you know it; the good news is, while it lasts, it will be a television experience you've never had before.
You may not realize it, but Mosaic actually premiered way back in November of 2017. The reason it probably slipped under your radar is that it had a very untraditional platform release: it didn't debut on television or even streaming, but rather on an app. Soderbergh specifically designed his story to be an interactive experience, allowing users to essentially choose their own adventure, following different characters and getting their unique perspectives on the unfolding investigation, perusing documents and news reports and evidence along the way. (Of course, no matter which path you took, all roads through the mystery led to the same solution.)
So how does such an unusual storytelling device translate to the screen? In an equally unusual, if more straightforward, format.
Mosaic — which stars Sharon Stone, Beau Bridges, and Garrett Hedlund — debuts with its first installment on HBO on Monday, Jan. 22, and then wraps up its limited six-episode run… on Friday, Jan. 26. That means the show will be airing nightly over the course of one single week (including a two-hour finale), rather than weekly over the course of a month or two, as is the industry standard for television shows across pretty much any platform — except for Netflix, obviously, which releases entire seasons at once.
Of course, in adapting a story designed as interactive to the static small screen, certain sacrifices had to be made. While the material comes to a total of about seven hours when viewed on the app, the show will only run for six hour-long episodes, losing about 60 minutes-worth of material along the way as conflicting perspectives and bonus material are shaved off in favor of a cohesive, linear narrative.
Even still, this will be a unique experience for most viewers, immersing the audience in a fast-paced narrative that more closely evokes the marathon sessions encouraged by Netflix's programming. Even if watching Mosaic on a television screen isn't nearly as personal or enveloping as interacting with it on the app, it's clear that Soderbergh was still committed to blazing a new trail and expanding the possibilities of storytelling formats.
But in fact, this isn't an entirely unique format, even if it will be new to most viewers. Longtime HBO subscribers will remember a similar experiment that ran on the channel from 2008-2010, called In Treatment. Starring Gabriel Byrne as a therapist, the show would run for a couple months at a time — but it would air half-hour episodes every day of the week while it was on, as Dr. Weston met with a different patient each night: one patient on Mondays, another on Tuesdays, etc., including a visit to his own therapist every Friday. (The format was copied directly from BeTipul, the Israeli series on which it was based.)
If In Treatment's unusual format was a bit ahead of its time, then Mosaic is perhaps arriving at the perfect moment to help revolutionize the way filmmakers tell stories, as the platforms and options of content continue to expand in surprise and seemingly unending ways. Will Mosaic be a fluke, a curiosity looked back on in the same way as In Treatment? Or will it pave the way for a new era of interactive television? If Soderbergh has its way, it won't be a one-off; he's already planning at least two more stories to be delivered in a similarly interactive manner, according to Variety. I wonder what he'll come up with next.