True Detective, HBO’s new crime drama, is on the surface the antithesis of everything that I love about television. It’s a procedural cop drama following a partnership in which the partners don’t like each other very much. However, thanks to some top-notch filmmaking and truly mesmerizing performances by stars Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, it has become one of the most compelling dramas on television.
The first three episodes follow Martin Hart (Harrelson) and Rustin Cohle (McConaughey) in 2012, as they are brought in for questioning in regards to a case that the two of them had worked back in 1995. It’s clear that there has been a pretty serious falling-out between the two, and neither of them is working for the Louisiana State Police any longer. This works not only as the primary framing device for the series, but serves to juxtapose Rust and Marty with their younger selves. Cohle has clearly come unhinged, allowing his hair to grow long and unkempt and beginning his drinking at noon on days off. Marty, on the other hand, appears clean-cut and proper, lecturing his interviewers on the merits of family and the ability to let loose.
While the primary narrative unfolds in much the same way as other procedural dramas – there’s evidence to be gathered and leads to be followed – the mystery is not nearly so interesting as the characters themselves. This is thanks in large part to the performances of Harrelson, and McConaughey in particular. His portrayal of Rustin Cohle is stunningly single-minded in its intensity, and if it were played by anybody else in any other setting, it would almost be laughable. However, when paired up with the gorgeous cinematography and Lovecraftian plot influences, this is the only possible approach McConaughey could have taken with the character.
At nearly the halfway point in the first season, a tonal consistency has been maintained by the continued presence of writer Nic Pizzolatto and director Cary Fukunaga, something almost entirely unheard of in television. While other prolific creators such as The Shield and Sons of Anarchy mastermind Kurt Sutter have an overall direction to their work, seldom does it attain the kind of absolute consistency achieved in True Detective. The level to which each episode feels like an extension of the previous one bridges a great deal of the gap between television and film.
True Detective has been billed as an anthology-style series, much like FX’s American Horror Story. I look forward not only to seeing how the rest of this initial season plays out, and where the shows creators decide to take it from there.