Time to switch gears here folks. As followers know, I talk a lot about comic books and movies, but rarely shine a light on the world of TV. Outside of praising the mighty Breaking Bad, Arrow, and the surprisingly good Sleepy Hollow , I typically shy away from reviewing and commenting on television (except, of course, to give Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. a good thrashing when necessary). I don’t spend much time commenting on TV because there’s only so much time I can devote to my passions, and because there’s someone out there doing a much better job of it than I am.
But there’s something hitting the airwaves that has me enthralled. With only three episodes, it’s already become one of my new favorite shows, and as long as it doesn’t completely jump the shark in the next seven episodes it’ll probably become one of my favorite shows of all time. What’s this show I’m talking of?
HBO’s True Detective.
At first glance, this anthology series seems like your regular run of the mill cop drama. And it is. But True Detective does the cop/serial killer investigation so well that it makes everything that came before it look like pale imitators in comparison. Like Terminator 2 is for action films, or The Dark Knight and superhero movies, it’s a first class take on a genre. Creator Nic Pizzolatto has created a truly awesome genre classic that’s not to missed.
Told via flashbacks, the series’ first season focuses on a current murder case that is eerily similar to a murder investigation from 1995. The two detectives from that case, Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey), are both retired and living very different lives, but that doesn’t stop the investigators from tracking them down so they can gain new insights on their case. As intriguing as the mystery behind the 1995 murder is, the real intrigue for us is how the two detectives we see in the flashbacks become the men we see today.
The main reason for True Detective’s effectiveness is the lead performances from its two stars. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are both on fire as detectives Rust Cohle and Martin Hart, who are assigned to a grisly, possibly satanic murder in the Louisiana farm fields. As partners, the two could not be more different. Constant attempts by Hart to try and get through to his partner are shot down, and the man has to learn from him wife that his partner has suffered a horrendous tragedy after working with him for months. Cohle refuses to let anyone inside his world, choosing to remain a mystery to those around him, including the man whom he should be trusting his life to. Naturally this leads to some pretty tense car rides.
These differences between the two detectives, while standard for the genre, make for great interplay between Harrelson and McConaughey. Harrelson’s Martin Hart is the type of detective that Hank Schrader would probably want to get a beer with, a family man with a wife (played by Michelle Monaghan) and two daughters. Hart’s the kind of detective who sees the value in his police work, and will usually hit up the bars after work to blow off some steam. Unfortunately, this causes some friction between himself and Cohle, but Hart’s odd looks and attempts to make small talk with is partner are extremely entertaining, adding some much needed moments of levity amid all of the darkness that surrounds their case.
Of course, Martin Hart’s hiding some very dangerous secrets that I won’t spoil here. Again, some of these secrets may have been done in other crime films or television shows, but it’s done perfectly here. In fact, watching Harrelson’s usually controlled cop struggle with his inner rage and secrets makes for some fascinating stuff, and I honestly have no idea how much longer he can keep his secrets from those around him, especially when the last episode that aired showed how shaky the foundations of his lies really are.
Harrelson is fantastic as Hart, but the real break out in this series is Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Colhe. . Like a phoenix rising out of the ashes of RomComs past, the former “alright alright alright” punchline has not only stepped up his acting game with this series, he’s completely obliterated the McConaughey of the past. Gone is the hang loose, consistantly ab baring Matthew McConaughey. In his place is one of the best actors currently living. McConaughey can tell a thousand words with a simple look in Rust Cohle’s eyes. There’s a darkness behind him, and we know in the few instances we’ve seen that he’s holding back something extremely powerful and dangerous. Something that could completely destroy his life. And judging by the modern day portions of the show, probably has.
This dichotomy between 1995 Cohle and 2014 Cohle is staggering. If you aren’t hooked by the initial mystery of the murder, you’re definitely hooked on how the skinny, quiet, and reserved Rust Cohle of the past becomes the boozing, frazzled, long haired Rust of the present. In both performance McConaughey is captivating.1995 Rust has one of the most haunting lines in the series’ opener: When discussing the Louisiana backwoods with Hart, he says “It’s all one ghetto man, giant gutter in outer space”. Sounds like a ray of sunshine, doesn’t he?
True Detective is the sum of putting creative individuals with talented performers, and it’s worth every penny of your HBO subscription price. Sure, some may find the pacing to be a bit slow, but much like the brilliant The Wire before it, Detective shows how slow and methodical actual police investigations are in real life. There a dead ends, suspects that take forever to bring in and questionings that seemingly go nowhere. True Detective is the antithesis of cop dramas that the general TV audience expects, and because of that it stands out at something truly special.
Hopefully True Detective is on its way towards a second-season pick up, and much like American Horror Story, each season will contain a different cast and focus on a different crime. I’m extremely excited by what’s to come with this show, and if you think I haven’t been day dreaming about a season starring Idris Elba and Hugh Jackman as a homicide investigators in Boston in deep with the Irish Mafia, then you are sorely mistaken (I’ve been on a Whitey Bulger kick lately).
But I’m getting ahead of myself. With only three episodes aired, there’s still plenty of show to go for True Detective. I haven’t been this excited for new episodes since, well, September when Breaking Bad was hitting home runs week after week. Of course, this is a completely different show than Vince Gilligan’s crime saga, but it’s just as strong. There’s still plenty of time to catch up. Barring a major screw up narratively, True Detective could go down as not only one of the best shows of 2014, but of all time. What are you waiting for? Watch it now!