If you seek any of these qualities in a television show, then you need look no further than HBO’s True Detective. The above list of words represents only a fraction of what the show has to offer. The eight part miniseries took its bow on March ninth, obtaining consistently high ratings throughout its nine week run on HBO and their online streaming service HBO GO. The show became such a hit so rapidly that it spurred many spoofs on the internet, the most recent being one with comedic actor Seth Rogan.
True Detective’s ambition lies in its style and its story. The program is done in what’s called an anthology format; that is to say, each season will field a new cast of characters and a fresh story. Intercutting between 1995 and 2012, the first season chronicles two Louisiana state detectives, Rustin Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson), as they hunt for the perpetrator of the ritualistic murder of a young woman. The scenes in 1995 show the detectives as close partners working devotedly on the case while in 2012 they are both being interviewed separately by two other detectives who have reopened the case because they suspect the killer may still be at large, suggesting Hart and Cohle did not solve the case as they originally thought.
While the detectives are being interviewed in 2012, many observations can be made, the most obvious being their change in appearance. Hart’s main change is his hair, in that he lost most of it; whereas Cohle had a more dramatic change, acquiring long, strangely hair and a spaced out look that suggest he spent the past 17 years consuming large amounts of alcohol and smoking at least a pack a day. The interviews with these two detectives also provide the watchers with just as big a mystery – if not the more intriguing mystery – as the 1995 flashback scenes and that is: why are these two former partners being interviewed separately? What was the falling out? And that is where True Detective’s layered brilliance shines. 2012 provides us with the “what” questions and 1995 shows us the “how”. Right from the start viewers are wanting to learn about the detectives as much as the murder and with each passing episode they uncover more and more about the characters while simultaneously caring and emotionally investing into them.
Harrelson’s Martin Hart is the stable of the two, he is pleasant, well-adjusted, and has a family; whereas McConaughey’s Cohle is polar opposite. Cohle is a rugged loner who burdens his thoughts with the case. He is a man of few words, but when he speaks his words carry a lot of insightful weight. McConaughey and Harrelson allow themselves to be consumed by their roles to provide some of the best acting on television to date this year. It is easy to buy into these actors as who they are portraying: McConaughey as the insomniac thinker and Harrelson, the cop who cares more about his family than the case. There is no doubt that True Detective will receive much praise come award season.
The acting is phenomenal and does justice bringing the superb script to life. Intricate, layered, intelligent story telling from writer Nic Pizzolatto, who also created the show, takes the audience on this dark journey from the Louisiana bayous, to crime-ridden underworlds, to abandoned schools, and churches and provides insight to characters and story the entire way as viewers piece together the mystery along with Hart and Cohle and also observe the evolution of their relationship; from the beginning of their partnership, to their falling out, to their rekindling and eventual sense of responsibility they feel to attempt to put to rest the case that has haunted them for 17 years.
In my personal opinion I would say the kings of television drama in the past ten years have been Breaking Bad, Justified, and House, and after True Detective’s first outing, I would say it deserves a crown as well, being some of the best TV I have seen in years. It showcases great actors, giving great performances, taking cues from an excellent script and believable sets and locations to bring this story to life. What more could you want? Find a way to watch this show as soon as you can.