True Detective was created for HBO by novelist-turned-screenwriter Nic Pizzolatto. What follows is a very interesting look into the dark psyche of a cop. We usually get procedurals that can never go deep into what makes a cop tick and beyond that, why some cops are just plain crazy. Being on HBO we are able to dive deep into the dark corridors some cops live in. Matthew McConaughey plays Rust Cohle, an acerbic cop with a murky past, used as a floater in different departments since no department really wants him. Woody Harrelson on the other hand plays Martin Hart, a veteran who does his job and nothing more. He is not too excited about having Cohle as a partner as Cohle is just too weird. This is great because it already provides tension, and it propels the viewer into the next episode. The show is not so much about the case of the week as it is about what we learn each week about our leads. Also since the show is going to be done anthology style, spending time specifically on character allows for a more satisfying end of the season, as each of these two detective stories will more than likely resolve by the end of the season, thrusting us into another season with two different cops. The entire series is directed by one of my favorite up-and-coming indie directors, Cary Fukunaga. We first saw Cary's work on Sin Nombre, a very tough movie in its own right, which felt very authentic. This show is no different, from the cold and dark dialogue, to the psychological hell McConaughey's character is put through, it all sings on screen.
FINAL VERDICT: SEE IT!
True Detective is a generic police procedural, spiced up with a hyper-philosophical dark and brooding lead detective. Unfortunately, the character archetype is also generic: tortured, genius, nihilist, loner detective, with a substance abuse problem and a dead family, a la Sherlock Holmes, Vincent D'Onofrio in Law and Order: CI, Tony Shalhoub's Monk, Simon Baker in The Mentalist, Hugh Laurie in House, etc. To successfully use such an abused character archetype, you need an interesting story around them, and this story isn't that interesting. It's two cops trying to solve a ritualistic occult murder (that looks almost identical to a couple murders in NBC's Hannibal, another show with a tortured genius detective), while they're mocked by the rest of the department and berated by their boss (more cop show tropes). The saving grace of the show is Matthew McConaughey's performance as the tortured cop Rust Cohle, and the way he spouts the beautiful, almost prose-like dialogue that makes him the philosophical nihilist. He's not as big as we're used to seeing him (only slightly bigger than his role in Dallas Buyer's Club), and he's not as confident either. It's fantastic to see him break free of rom-com hell and explore his range, portraying vulnerability, depression and social ineptitude. What's most interesting about this show is its format and its potential: if it gets renewed for a second season, it may have an entirely new cast, case and location. This could make the show a fantastic outlet for A-list film stars squeamish of the long-term commitment that usually accompanies a regular TV role. Unfortunately, if the show doesn't pick up, it may never be able to realize this potential. Where it stands now, not even a fantastic performance from Matthew McConaughey can make this generic story stand out.
FINAL VERDICT: STREAM IT
Created by Nic Pizzolatto, this is without a doubt some of the best writing on television. ALL of the characters are layered, complex, highly-flawed, and remarkably unique. More than anything else, this is a drama about people and relationships. Yes, the setting and premise of the show is about two homicide detectives, but there is so much more to enjoy other than the thriller elements. The acting is absolutely spectacular, particularly from McConaughey who plays Rust Cohle. His character is so rich and unique, and more importantly so well-realized, that he jumps off the screen the instant you hear his voice. McConaughey the actor doesn't appear onscreen; he IS Rust Cohle. Woody Harrelson also manages to turn out a stellar performance as the equally fascinating but slightly more grounded Martin Hart, a family man who knows how to separate work from home. Harrelson's character has his own set of problems, and while he is great, McConaughey outshines him almost every single time. To be clear: there is NOTHING wrong with Harrelson, he's just not as good as McConaughey. Director Cary Fukunaga has shot one of the best-looking television shows I've ever seen. Period. Every single shot has the look and feel of a dark and gritty feature film, an almost-eerie mixture of The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, two shows that sported a similar aesthetic. Not only does he direct, but he is also the lead cinematographer of the show. I'm simply blown away by how well made this show is. I can't wait to watch the rest.
FINAL VERDICT: SEE IT!