Investigating “True Detective”

HBO’s latest addition is dark, introspective

Any time I catch drift of HBO releasing a new show, it feels like Christmas morning all over again. And how could I not be excited? With an already impressive collection spanning from “The Wire” to “Girls” to “The Sopranos” to my personal favorite, “Game of Thrones,” it has become increasingly difficult to deny the network’s abundance of ingenious writers and inventive plotlines. Things were no different this time around when HBO announced its newest addition, “True Detective,” starring exciting duo Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson.

So does “True Detective” live up to its hype and the high standards upheld by other HBO programs? It’s hard to say before the season is complete — but so far, in my amateur opinion, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

“True Detective” attempts — and for the most part succeeds — to differentiate itself from the bounty of quality TV shows today in more ways than one. First off, it is an anthology series, meaning there is a new story and new characters each season — comparable to “American Horror Story.” Second, the same director and the same writer, Cary Joji Fukunaga and Nic Pizzolatto, respectively, are responsible for every episode — incredibly uncommon in the world of TV. This translates into a very consistent tone and look for the show, which plays more like one long movie than independent episodes.

The show itself is a southern gothic, centering around two mismatched detectives — Rust Cohle and Martin Hart — who are working on a chain of ritual serial murders in a largely white, Christian region of Louisiana. Cohle (McConaughey), is what you could call a tortured intellectual, while Hart (Harrelson) is more or less your ordinary cop and self-proclaimed family man.

What’s unique about the show is not necessarily its premise — the tale of two cops who do not get along has become quite the Hollywood cliché — but its obsession with philosophy, particularly existentialism based on the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche and Thomas Ligotti. Cohle is constantly muttering his nihilistic views on humanity, like how “human consciousness was a tragic misstep in evolution” and “the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming [and] stop reproducing.” Hart typically retorts, “Stop saying s**t like that.”

For this, “True Detective” is home to some of the bleakest things you will hear on television. It’s certainly not realism — I doubt this is what a car conversation between two police officers sounds like. With some suspension of belief, however, it is easy to appreciate the beautiful dialogue provided by Pizzolatto’s superb writing.

The murder case is just a vehicle for delving into the deep, dark inquiry of human existence, which questions the show’s honest intentions. Who are the true detectives? What are they really investigating?

I confidently give the show four stars out of five. Although the season is not yet complete and things may change, I don’t see “True Detective” veering far from anything remarkable. If you’re looking for a dark drama to fill the void “Breaking Bad” has left behind, or you’re growing curious about the potential philosopher within you, I highly recommend adding HBO’s “True Detective” to your list of shows to binge watch.

Published March 17, 2014 in Arts and Entertainment, tableau

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