This is Why True Detective Was Worth the Hype

This is Why True Detective Was Worth the Hype

Leigh MichaelWednesday,12 March 2014

The Snap:

True Detective was clearly a hit. 11 million viewers gathered around their televisions, laptops and tablets for each episode; the finale was so explosive that HBO GO crashed (and panic attacks ensued across the country).

For all the hype the show generated, its reviews were mixed. New Yorker proclaimed that “the series for all its good looks and its movie-star charisma, isn’t just using dorm-room deep talk as a come-on: it has fallen for its own sales pitch.” NPR accredited the show for containing “two of the best performances television’s celebrated ‘golden age’ has offered from Harrelson and McConaughey, and its tone and aesthetic were often gorgeously realized.”

So, what’s the takeaway?

The Download:

True Detective is not a story about a serial killer, and creator Nic Pizzolatto wants everyone to know it. He explains, “You can probably tell I don’t give a damn about serial killers, and I certainly don’t care to engage in some sort of creative cultural competition for who can invent the most disgusting kind of serial killer. This is just a vehicle. You could have engaged the same obsessions in a doughnut shop. But the show probably wouldn’t have sold.”

And this is what makes True Detective so brilliant. It hides the antithesis of Hollywood within a Hollywood facade. Sure, the show’s premise is built into the story of killing, a theme that has taken film by the balls in the past few years (The Killing, The Fall, Broadchurch, Top of the Lake, NeedIGoOn?….)

But — and I’ll try to stay away from spoilers here — if the episode’s finale is any indication, that is not the point of the show. It’s a character study, an elaborate philosophical sketch built around two men who have made a home in the heart of Louisiana. Rust Cohle, played by Matthew McConaughey, is a modern-day Nietzsche. His apathy defines him, and it’s a shell that we see him firmly don for the nearly two decades that the show spans. Marty Hart, portrayed by Woody Harrelson, is a habitually unfaithful husband and predominantly absent father. They aren’t likeable, per se. And yet, television seems to surround us by characters that we are supposed to want to emulate (that, or serial killers and psychopaths that make us check that backseat of the car for lurking strangers before unlocking the door.) It’s refreshing to watch two characters that have their pretenses stripped away completely, and it’s also a little unsettling.

This is Nic Pizzolatto’s first foray into television; before he brought True Detective to life, he was a college professor who had a collection of short stories to his name. And the show is an almost academic pursuit, a journey into psychological complexity and literary symbolism. Ultimately, it is a series about optimism, an eight-hour look into the power of “glass half full” versus “glass half empty.”

If you were going into True Detective hoping for a shocking twist, or an overdramatized finale, save yourself a third of a day and wait for the fourth season of The Killing instead. But if you’re looking for an “artfully written, remarkably acted, stunningly visualized portrait of Marty and Rust trying to find the path in an overgrown world of decay,” then I have good news for you: HBO GO has officially been restored, and you can start watching.


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Hat Tips:

The Daily Beast, Rolling StoneNew YorkerNPRLA Times, Time, Image Credit: Flickr

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