Over the years, the National have been no strangers to extracurricular activities outside the band. There have been side projects, Aaron Dessner’s work as a producer, his brother Bryce’s robust second life as a classical composer. Primarily thanks to the Dessner twins, the group’s been attached to a handful of festivals around the world — but now they even have their own full-fledged event in their hometown of Cincinnati, where they’ll play their 2007 classic Boxer in full. They’re also somehow finding time to make an adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac! They’re busy dudes.
And yet, that’s still not everything that’s percolating in National world. They’re currently in Australia touring behind their great 2017 release Sleep Well Beast — one of our favorite albums of last year — and Matt Berninger and Aaron found a chance to swing by Australia’s Double J radio station. The big takeaway from their conversation? Berninger’s still working on a TV show, and there are some new hints about where it’s headed.
Berninger’s been talking about this for years. When the National released Trouble Will Find Me in 2013, it was accompanied by a film called Mistaken For Strangers. Directed by Matt’s brother Tom, it was sort of a tour doc, sort of a rock mockumentary, but actually a tale of two brothers, one who’d somehow become a well-known indie rocker and one who had remained a little more listless in adulthood. The movie basically figures out what it is as it goes along, paralleling Tom’s journey, and it’s at turns heartwarming, heartbreaking, and hilarious.
It was subject matter that Berninger apparently found to be fertile enough to tap yet again — he and his wife Carin Besser have been working with Tom for years developing a TV show based on the same concept. We’d previously heard rumors that Tom might star in it as himself. Now, Berninger has given Double J a vague outline of what to expect.
Teaming with Australian director Trent O’Donnell — who, among other things, has worked on New Girl and The Good Place — the trio is planning a half-hour comedy based on Berninger’s life. He and Tom will star in it alongside each other, and the premise will echo Mistaken For Strangers, though the new project will be more scripted and presumably touch on a lot of other aspects of band life than the tour-focused film. In the show, Berninger will still be in a band, but they won’t be his National colleagues — Aaron apparently helped cast the TV version with guys they’ve known in other groups over the years. Aaron’s also in it, apparently, but playing a producer rather than himself.
Of course, there’s a practical question here: How does a touring musician have time to conceive, script, shoot, and produce a TV show while promoting a recent album globally? Naturally, it might take a while for this to actually materialize. “It won’t see the light of day this year,” Berninger told Double J. “So, that’s how far along it is.” Still, this is some of the most concrete info we’ve ever heard about Berninger’s TV ambitions, something that makes it seem like this could actually become a reality.
There’s something so bizarrely old-time-y about it, like the Beatles making movies. But it’s another curiosity for National fans to potentially get excited about. And, if they stick to the mockumentary format in any capacity, hopefully we can look forward to Berninger throwing lots of aggrieved smirks at the camera, Jim Halpert style.