Seemingly every person who knows anything about television spent the winter of this year raving about True Detective via social media, while I huddled in the corner of the Twitter universe trying to avoid any and all spoilers. I’m happy to say I emerged unscathed, and ended up buying the show at Barnes and Noble (30% percent off!) last week. Aside from the bits and pieces that had popped up on the internet, I knew very little about this show, excepting Matthew McConaughey’s mustache.
The show, despite being lauded for its originality, is actually a pretty basic story of two detectives who have diametrically opposed views of the world. Woody Harrelson plays Marty Hart, who initially comes across as the sort of do-gooder in a land of corruption you’ve seen a million times, but ends up being, for lack of a better word, an asshole. Marty’s partner is Rustin Cole (McConaughey), a depressed, cynical dude who is probably one of the more interesting characters I have seen on television or in film in quite some time. His drunken, swirling soliloquies and meditations on life are the heart of the show, at least to me.
Anyway, the show has an interesting frame story; it starts in 1995, with the two detectives working a mysterious murder case, while they are simultaneously interviewed in 2012. The story later shifts to 2002 and then finally back to 2012 for the last two episodes. By the way, there are only 8 episodes (1 hour each) so the story comes and goes and doesn’t drag at all to my mind.
What I Liked
The acting from the two leads is incredible stuff, particularly McConaughey. I haven’t seen him in many serious roles, but his career has been experiencing a renaissance of late and it’s obvious why, because he takes the role of Cole and knocks it out of the park. Harrelson does a great job as well in a much less flashy role, but the two work together nicely.
Secondly, the cinematography and the way the show is shot is like nothing I’ve seen on television. It really feels like a long movie, and some of the scenery shots of Southern Louisiana are really breathtaking. There’s also an epic, 6 minute, Children of Men-esque take that I would highly recommend everyone check out.
Finally, I think the show does a fantastic job telling the story. The murder mystery itself is not really a novel concept, but it’s so well executed that you forget about some of its flaws.
What I Didn’t Like
The big issue people justifiably have with True Detective is that the female characters are not well written. I think this is a legitimate complaint, although I’m sure others will complain about how the PC police have taken over our society. I’m definitely not someone who thinks that every movie or television program needs to complete a checklist of every group of society. However, the female characters that are present are not drawn with nearly the complexity of the leads and mainly exist either to get a guttural reaction from the audience (i.e. everyone recoils at the sight of a dead woman) or as trophies for male characters. That’s about all I’ll say on that though!
My second complaint, which I already alluded to, is that the plot is pretty standard stuff, and this whole obsession with serial killers has started to feel a little stale. Not that it’s a focus of the show, but I just feel like the trope is played out at this point. It’s a credit to everyone involved in the creation of the show that this works as well as it does with such a trite story-line.
I’m not ready to anoint True Detective as the second coming of The Wire or Breaking Bad, but it is an excellent show. Great performances, great cinematography, and an interesting example of how television can succeed in ways that film cannot. Definitely see this show.