Television Revision: True Detective – Season 1

True Detective S1

By Andrew Williams
March 25, 2014

Television Revision is a weekly feature in which our tuned in TV critic trawls through the best the box has to offer, giving you a primer on some of history’s finest shows (and the rest).

Now, this is a story all about how… Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) are two grizzled detectives on the trail of a serial killer in 1995 – while in 2012 the same men are being interviewed after that same serial killer appears to have struck again .

True Detective S1

Happy days? A compelling jumble of philosophy, imagery, murder and wigs, True Detective is unquestionably the first great new show of 2014 and a welcome addition to the television landscape. It’s a relatively simple story of two detectives seeking a serial killer made exceptional by virtue of the voices doing the telling: director Cary Fukunaga, writer Nic Pizzolato and leads Matthew McConaughey & Woody Harrelson are all doing exemplary work, combining to make an atmospheric, thrilling drama that will grab you by the antlers and won’t let go.

It’s not without its problems: True Detective has two compelling characters and only two compelling characters; the lack of anyone bar Cohle and Hart to hold our interest robs the season of an added dimension that could see it through the flat spots. But that’s one of only a few minor complaints compared with everything this show does so well. McConaughey and Harrelson are both in career-best form, Pizzolato has given us some quotes for the ages (and if time is indeed a flat circle, hopefully he’ll repeat the dose next year) and Fukunaga creates some of the most arresting visuals I’ve ever seen on a TV screen.

Perhaps most exciting of all is what True Detective represents for the future of television. The success of the anthology format (represented by this show and American Horror Story) might free studios up from the traditional series model, where shows hang on to cast members longer than they should and eventually peter out of storytelling gas just so they can reach their goal of syndication. This format, where a series can tell multiple stories with different casts under the same brand, pushes the creative team to the forefront and frees actors from signing up for exhaustive schedules and oppressively long-term deals. It’s a welcoming broadening of television’s horizons.

The final frontier: Compelling performances and superb execution make True Detective one of the shows of 2014.

True Detective S1

Top three episodes: 5) The Secret Fate of All Life. Inventive, compelling and shocking, this showcase of top-notch storytelling has already booked a place on my Top Ten episodes of 2014 list. 4) Who Goes There. A breathtakingly audacious final sequence launched True Detective into the stratosphere and indicated this show would most certainly deliver on its immense promise. 8) Form and Void. The finale does plenty of pleasurably unexpected things, none of which I’ll spoil here.

Worst episode: 2) Seeing Things. For a show that so rarely descended into pure cliché, the disappointing use of the immensely talented Michelle Monaghan in the ‘disapproving wife’ role is most egregious here. Fortunately, True Detective mostly pivots away to give her slightly more interesting things to do as the series progresses – but only slightly.

Season MVP: It has to be McConaughey. Harrelson is terrific in the part of Marty Hart, however McConaughey as Rust Cohle is a performance that entered the pop cultural lexicon immediately after it was released into the world, and for good reason: he’s spellbinding. I don’t know who’ll be cast in True Detective Season 2. They have their work cut out for them traipsing the scorched earth of the McConnaissance.

4/5

True Detective is now available on Quickflix.

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