HBO’s “True Detective” is not what it sounds like. It’s more of a twisting of genre expectations like Quentin Tarantino’s True Romance or Pulp Fiction in that way. Oh, it’s a police procedural, of a kind, but it’s also something else. In watching the four episodes so far, I have been mesmerized, and reminded of other oddities in television experimentation like “Twin Peaks” and HBO’s own much missed “Carnivale.” It’s my new favorite TV series, meet me after the jump, and I’ll tell you why.
Set in three different time periods – 1995, 2010, and eventually 2002 – “True Detective” tells the story (or stories) of Louisiana detectives Martin Hart (played by Woody Harrellson) and Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) as they pursue a ritualistic serial killer. These two are unorthodox partners and their dynamic changes episode to episode. The good cop/bad cop routine flips depending on the situation and morality spins frequently. Both are charismatic, mysterious, and despicable in their own rights, and their quarry, though as yet encountered, is a monster of undeniable evil.
The two protagonists are questioned separately in 2010 as to the events of the serial killer case in 1995, and an as yet undetermined happening in 2002. Each episode we learn a bit more about each of them, from Hart’s philandering to Cohle’s mysterious past as an undercover narcotics agent. The more we learn, the more we want to learn more. This show is addictive.
Neither of the leads, Harrelson or McConaughey, have ever been my favorites in anything they’ve done. Woody, for me never got past the bartender at “Cheers” and that’s the character I usually see in anything he’s in – as a matter of fact, I couldn’t enjoy Natural Born Killers because of him. He’s just never anything other than Woody to me. McConaughey on the other hand always seems either insincere or just trying too darn hard – again, hard to watch, and believe. Believing seems to be the watchword for both actors for me.
In “True Detective,” I believe them. This is an important distinction. I actually didn’t watch the show for the first few weeks because of the co-stars, because they just didn’t appeal to me. I gave in, knowing that HBO has a reputation for producing some of the best television of the last couple decades – they are rarely off their game. I would give the show a chance. And I was amazed. There was no Woody or Matt, there were two solid three dimensional characters, no, people on the screen, who I would follow anywhere, and completely believe.
This season, composed of eight episodes, now at the halfway point, is all one story. “True Detective” was conceived as an anthology series, so when season two rolls up, which based on its ratings, it will, we’ll have a whole new story with a new cast and whole new set of characters. This one detail makes me wonder if everyone makes it out of this season alive…
The brainchild of Nic Pizzolatto, who you might know from his award-winning novel Galveston and numerous short stories, this is his first foray into television. His literary background bleeds into the series with its odd references to philosophy, and especially a collection of weird fiction short stories called The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers. If you look and listen close, you’ll catch the subtleties and blatant shout outs. The tales are freaky stuff that inspired the likes of H.P. Lovecraft, Raymond Chandler, and Neil Gaiman to name a few.
I love this show, and I can’t wait for more. You can bet that I’ll be glued to HBO tomorrow night for episode five. It may seem like a police procedural or it may seem like some dark horror, but in reality it’s both, but most of all, it’s a think show, and you may find yourself watching episodes more than once and gaining insight with each viewing. Trust me, “True Detective” is the best new show of the year, and you must not miss it.