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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
There’s only one episode left in the first season of HBO’s newest show, True Detective. This police procedural series from creator/writer Nic Pizzolatto, stars Matthew McConaughey (Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey, I should say) and Woody Harrelson, and director Cary Joji Fukunaga began life after being initially green-lit in April 2012 for an eight episode, one season order. True Detective was originally intended as a one-shot affair, but it looks as if critical acclaim and strong ratings will bring us a second season, in all likelihood featuring a new cast of characters following a brand new case (probably due to its leads’ busy schedules). I have been greatly enjoying this show, and I feel it has quickly established itself as one of the best new series on television.
True Detective is unique in that it takes place across three distinct periods of time, 1995, 2002, and 2012. In 1995, detectives Rust Cohle (McConaughey, playing an offbeat role) and Marty Hart (Harrelson, playing a no-nonsense cop/family man) take on a new case with a rather gruesome murder at its center. The two men quickly venture deeper and deeper into the murky politics of the show’s Louisiana setting, as they tangentially link a famous minister to the case as well as connect the murder to a drug ring. This is intercut with interviews of Rust and Marty taken in 2012 by two other mysterious detectives, Gilbough (Brother Mouzone of The Wire) and Papania (Miracle at St. Anna, Olympus Has Fallen). 2002 also plays an important role in the series, in that it is the year that Rust and Marty have a falling out, and their personal lives are also greatly affected by their work.
The first episode of True Detective takes a bit of time to get into, as it is a difficult affair separating the events of 2012 from the events of 1995 initially. Once the viewer becomes accustomed to the stylistic editing choices, however, the story really begins to pick up. The direction, from Cary Joji Fukunaga (2011’s Jane Eyre adaptation) is haunting and gothic, reminiscent of a 70s horror film at times. It is also atmospheric, slow, and beautiful. Fukunaga uses the distinct landscape of southern Louisiana to the benefit of the show on multiple occasions. It also helps that the writing is strong, with show-runner Nic Pizzolatto (who wrote two episodes of the first season of AMC’s The Killing) at the helm. Pizzolatto’s work could potentially fall into southern-fried camp, but never really does. There are a few soapy moments interspersed throughout True Detective, but the writing is by and large strong.
The show is buoyed by excellent performances from McConaughey and Harrelson, who I’m certain will be receiving Emmy attention next year. McConaughey’s Rust Cohle is a broken man, but plays him differently from Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham character on Hannibal, one of TV’s other best new shows (yes, I realize Hannibal is in its second season). Cohle has spent significant time working undercover with the cartels, and his character’s weariness is visible on-screen at almost all times. He’s also just off-kilter enough to make you nervous and keep you guessing at his behavior and motivation. Harrelson’s Detective Hart is the more traditional hard-edged but fairly straight-laced cop, not unlike Law and Order: SVU’s Eliot Stabler character (famously portrayed by Christopher Meloni). But Hart is, in his own way, as multi-layered and interesting as Cohle, even though the two of them are often at odds with one another.
There is only one episode left this season of True Detective, sadly. I have greatly enjoyed the first season, and I find myself wondering just how Pizzolato and Fukunaga could possibly top themselves next year when the show returns for season two. I have loved the many twists and turns the story has taken thus far, with its references to the occult and its intense moments featuring the drug trade (the fourth episode, titled Who Goes There, features one of the best action sequences on television I can ever remember). It hasn’t been a totally perfect run, but True Detective has established itself as one of the best shows on television, and its talent both on-screen and off is notable and commendable. All other police procedure television shows: you are officially on notice.