The TV dry season is officially over! The holidays are behind us, the new year has begun, and once again TV networks are giving us high-quality shows at a weekly rate (please watch Community!). Therefore, it’s also time for people to begin anticipation for the year’s new television debuts, especially in light of the current transitional period TV is going through with several high-profile series winding down to a conclusion this year or next (Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Sons of Anarchy, How I Met Your Mother, etc.). People are all eager to see what the next Breaking Bad could be, which frankly is saying a lot, but fortunately viewers might very well be getting another taste of a brilliant crime series, and quicker than they might of thought. HBO’s new series, True Detective, premiered last night, and if the quality of this pilot is any indication of what’s too continue, then TV’s most prestigious channel may just have another masterpiece on their hands.
Telling the series in a non-linear but concise fashion, the storyline flips between 2012 and flashbacks pertaining to a police investigation regarding a seemingly ritualistic murder back in 1995. The storyline revolves around two Louisiana detectives, one being the relatively straight-laced and humble Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson), and the other the more hard-edged and potentially tortured Rust Cohl (Matthew McConaughey). In 2012, both of these detectives are being questioned regarding the 1995 case, with a pair of younger detectives hoping they can shed some light on updating the case file. We see that Martin hasn’t changed too much in the 17 years since the case (besides Harrelson’s loss of a toupee), but Rust has become a sloven alcoholic. It’s clear that there’s more to this case then what’s in the police books, and it’s also clear that we as viewers are going to see all of the details over this season’s eight-episode run.
Created and written by novelist Nic Pizzolatto and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, the show immediately lets us know what kind of a story this is. True Detective certainly isn’t averse to using some rudimentary crime-fiction/noir tropes for the pilot, but one can’t shake off the notion that any familiarity in the show is only there to get the ball rolling. There are two aspects of this pilot episode that really stick out as being outstanding, and that’s the acting and the mood, with the latter possibly being the most important card in the whole deck. The show is suitably eerie and grim throughout, and it’s definitely the most potent sense of rural noir that I’ve seen on the small screen in a long while. Expect plenty of consistency in this area too, as all eight of this season’s episodes are written by Pizzolatto and directed by Fukunaga, which makes True Detective another example of how the television medium is becoming more and more like film. I’ll reserve final judgement until watching all of this season, but I have a strong feeling that True Detective is going to feel like an eight hour movie.
It’s no doubt that the show’s star power will call in an immediate fanbase, but in this case that’s another good reason to watch the show. Matthew McCouaughey continues to prove he’s not only one of Hollywood’s best actors, but one of the hardest working as it’s almost impossible to envision how he can appear in a healthy string of movies each year, yet still finds time to star in a TV series. Yet once again he delivers a complex and highly entertaining performance here as detective Rust, who is in some nature a character we’ve seen before, yet also something much deeper. Rust is different from the rest of his police team as he’s distinct in his investigative methods and potentially a better detective, yet through little snippets of the show’s dialogue we find that he has had divorce and violence in his past. His musings on why humanity is doomed and inherently evil are chilling to hear, and provide a great contrast to his partner Martin’s more lenient views. Woody Harrelson once again delivers a sturdy performance here, and it’s enticing to see where this character goes as he uncovers more of the darkness that he seems foreign too, yet Rust seems to be a first hand witness towards. The dynamic of these cops is certainly something that’s been done before, but rich acting, writing and dialogue keep viewers fully immersed in the “chemistry” between McConaughey and Harrelson.
So yes, True Detective has a very strong premiere episode, and word says that the series is only going to get better in the subsequent ones. Pizzolatto has described True Detective as being an anthology series, and he says that if they do get another season that it will involve new characters and a different case. Therefore, we as viewers can rest assured in receiving a complete story in this season, rather then being left with an unsatisfying cliffhanger, a method which other crime shows like The Killing (which Pizzolatto did write for) have been criticized for. At first glance True Detective appears to be a gritty, character-driven, and well executed piece of neo-noir, and here’s hoping that that first impression lasts.