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[TV Show Review] True Detective (Season 1 2014-)

Official Website

Created by: Nic Pizzolatto

Directed by: Cary Joki Fukunaga

Original Channel: HBO

Runtime: 8 episodes / 60 min

Main Cast:

  • Woody Harrelson as Detective Marty Hart
  • Matthew McConaughey as Detective Rust Cohle
  • Michelle Monaghan as Maggie Hart
  • Michael Potts as Detective Maynard Gilbough
  • Tory Kittles as Detective Thomas Papania

Review: by Anthony and The Superior Spider-Sam

When two big names in Hollywood decide to come to the small screen to do an HBO mini series, it catches our attention. When they play detectives in a murder mystery drama, it catches our interest!

Woody Harrelson, an amazing actor who had a mega summer starring in The Hunger Games franchise, is an actor we truly enjoy to watch.  He can play almost any type of role at least adequately if not greatly, so pairing him with Matthew McConaughey, the “sexy cowboy” from Texas who can’t keep his shirt on, was something we could still get into.

What We Liked:

Without spoiling too much, here’s a brief synopsis of the wonderful world show runner, Nic Pizzolatto, built.

For the first six episodes, the show takes place between the years 1995 and 2012 before fully focusing on 2012 in the final two episodes.  In 2012, we see (former) Detective Rustin Spencer “Rust” Cohle (McConaughey) and Detective Martin Eric “Marty” Hart (Harrelson) being interviewed separately by some detectives belonging to the police department in Vermilion Parish, Louisiana about a case they solved as partners in 1995 before they had a huge falling out and stopped speaking to one another.  The detectives tell the gentlemen that the department has lost files in a flood and would like their assistance in recollecting the events of a specific case involving the gruesome murder of a young woman. As Rust and Marty describe the events of the case, we the viewers are treated to a flashback to 1995 where we see a much younger Rusty and Marty work the case.

Marty is shown as a decent friendly detective who has earned the respect of his peers. At the start of the murder case, he is assigned a new partner, Rusty, who is a new transfer to the precinct. Unlike Marty, Rusty does not get along very well with others, but he does not seem to care about it. He is focused on his work, at which he is exceptional. He seems to see and make connections that the other detectives miss. The pairing of these two opposing personalities leads to some obvious friction in the partnership.

Now, the flashbacks to 1995 show what actually happened, which isn’t exactly as described to the officers by Marty and Rust in 2012. As early as the first episode, we see that the officers may suspect that there are holes in the story when the interviews begin to feel more like interrogations.  We then learn that the police are actually after answers for a recent murder of a young girl, which was identical to murder of 1995, including details which were never made public.  So the question becomes how this is possible if Marty and Rust supposedly caught the killer and closed the case 17 years earlier.

Murder mystery stories can be hit or miss (see AMC’s The Killing), but trust us when we say this show is absolutely captivating with its story. It has its twists and surprises but not like you’d expect for the murder mystery genre, which can sometimes resemble a soap opera. One of the reasons that True Detective is so good is that the focus is on the two main leads and their journey to solve the case. We quickly become invested in their lives and not necessarily the case involving the murder victim. The case is a catalyst of sorts, but the show is really about Marty and Rust, which distinguishes this show from the many cop shows that have over saturated network television as of late.

Not a minute of this show feels wasted on subtext that will eventually amount to nothing. For instance, there is no abundance of time spent witnessing weeping family members all for the purpose of letting us know that the victim was a “good girl who no one hated.” Not to be insensitive, but watch an episode of any cop show (Castle, NCIS, NCIS:LA, CSI, The Mentalist), and each one of them will spend way too long interviewing a family member about whom, more than likely, we will forget by the end of the episode.  So it is a nice break to see a show focus on what matters, the character development.

While Rust and Cohle are fine detectives, getting to know them as people is really interesting.  Cohle appears to be this easy going detective, working a hard day and going home to his wife and kids and manicured lawn.  We learn that everything isn’t as it seems when he has his issues with fidelity and anger management, which boil over from his personal life into his professional life.  Then there is Rust, who just appears to be border line obsessive compulsive about his work, taking tons of notes on his huge legal notepad.  That attention to detail gives insight to how he picks up pieces that other detectives miss.  However, it’s that same attention to detail that seems to possess Rust.  He has these odd hallucinations, draws massive diagrams and ties together pieces of evidence that may or may not correlate, and develops an ongoing theory that time is a flat circle.

As we said, we become invested in them and their lives to the point where we want to go the next episode to see what happened to Marty’s daughter or to see what is going on in Rusty’s apartment. It is addicting.

This is the easiest show to binge-watch since Netflix’s House of Cards. This goes in line with what we said about the story.  The pacing of events is handled masterfully. This show kind of plays out like a movie. What we mean is that, though episodes do not end with some kind of resolution,  there are no cliffhangers. Each episode begins in the spot where the last left off, so it is like an eight hour movie cut into 8 equal one hour portions.

The reason this is so cool is because if you decide to watch the entire series in one sitting you will feel like you watched an entire film from beginning to end. On the other hand, you can watch it episode by episode over time and not feel like the end of one episode cut so abruptly that you must watch the next one to get resolution.

I have never seen a show’s season do this, fit so well together as a single story yet also be able to play out in an episode by episode format without causing frustration from the abrupt ending of an episode. Most shows have problems doing this feat with 2-part specials. True Detective did it with 8. The fact that the show streamed seamlessly through is a testament to excellent writing and editing.

Fortunately, True Detective benefits from some A-rate story telling, A-rate pacing, and A-rate acting. All actors, including the extras were great. Give credit to the director of casting and the director of filmography because not once during this 8 hour epic did I feel like I was watching just another television show. Each character felt real, and every emotion felt genuine.

We must also give credit to costumes, props, and makeup because 1995 FELT like 1995. Not just the younger looking Rusty and Marty (with Mcconaughey looking like he found a fountain of youth), but also the cars that were being driven, the types of beer that was being served, and the music you could hear playing in the background. It was all carefully executed. Most people don’t notice or care, and if we had noticed an irregularity we probably wouldn’t mind; but, we did notice how much effort these people put into this show, so we must congratulate them.

There was a 6 minute long, no cutting away, tracking shot that was simply fantastic.  The camera follows Rust on an undercover mission gone wrong that Cary Fukunaga, True Detective director, captured beautifully.  The amount of work that had to go into a long, uninterrupted shot like that is astounding.  All of the actors taking their cues, the gunfire, the stunts, and everything had to be just right, and it was.

If I (Sam) had a website before The Grand Shuckett, I think it would have been a dedicated blog where I write/rant about successful things that I don’t understand.  Matthew “Shirtless Sexy Cowboy” McConaughey would have been at least top five along with Michael Kors purses and Instagram. I owe this man an apology. Mr. Matthew McConaughey, if you happen upon this random post on this random site, know that the Superior Spider-Sam is so sorry. You are a PHENOMINAL actor. I will repeat what I said above specifically for Matthew McConaughey. The man made me feel like I was watching a taped documentary on Rustin Cohle. The sadness he felt when he showed up drunk at his partner’s home, the anger he felt towards his partner’s wife, the way you could see on his face when gears were turning in his head, the way his voice changed in the 17 year gap… This man put on an acting clinic and stole the show!

Let’s not forget he went the Christian Bale route and changed his body too as the man got super skinny for this role. He definitely deserved his own mention as something we liked about this show. The man should have a Golden Globe and Emmy for this performance. Again I say I am sorry for the massive hating in which I was involved.  Matthew Mcconaughey is a brilliant actor.

What We Didn’t Like:

I (Anthony) didn’t care for the played out stereotype of the dumb-gullible-revival tent attending southern Christian.  While it played to Cohle’s character being a complete jerk and condescending and mocking those he feels are beneath him, I just didn’t care for it.

Now, Sam had no problems with True Detective.  For me to have no problem with a show or movie is unheard of, on the other hand, because I’m so anal that I nitpick the color of eyes in Sin City and the way The Good Wife likes to raise her left eye brow way too often. True Detective is not the greatest show that I have ever watched, but it is probably the only one that did nothing to seriously upset me. I would accuse them of playing it too safe, but this show goes to places way too dark for me to disrespect it like that.

You can purchase Season 1 of True Detective here on Amazon :

Images courtesy of IMDB – © 2014 – Home Box Office

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