Arts in Review

Channel Surfing: True Detective

HBO is known for developing quality television entertainment, so it’s no surprise that True Detective is already amazing at the three-episode mark.



By Jeremy Hannaford (Contributor) – Email

Print Edition: February 5, 2014


HBO is known for developing quality television entertainment,  so it’s no surprise that True Detective is already amazing at the  three-episode mark.

But it’s what makes the show amazing that is surprising.

The show is based on a 1995 murder investigation in Louisiana that turned into a 17-year manhunt for the killer. The show offers a form of double narrative as it follows two detectives, Martin Hart and Dustin “Rust” Chole, as they recount the investigation. The interviews are engrossing and have their share of humour and humility. They provide narrative to the events unfolding as well as insight into the characters.

True Detective’s premise may resemble that of most cop shows on paper. But it breaks those routines and gives a whole new meaning to the genre. This is because of powerhouse acting from Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. Both have complex, enriching, and extremely compelling characters.

Matthew McConaughey truly has turned his career around in the past five years with a change in roles, and True Detective is the icing on the cake. His character is dark and brutally realistic with his views of the world. What may seem like social awkwardness is actually his own bleak opinion of society. These odd and depressing views, however, heighten his senses; he’s able to find clues or think of options no one else would consider. He is mocked as “the Taxman” for carrying a ledger rather than a notepad, but with it he unfolds his observations from random notes to beautiful drawings of the crime scene. When not on the case, his bleakness pushes away any want for human interaction. He lives in a small apartment with nothing but a mattress, a small collection of non-fiction murder novels, and a cross on the wall even though he believes faith is absurd.

Half the reason I watch the show is just to see what McConaughey says or does next.  Like when he spouts stuff like, “I believe every human being should just hold hands and walk together into extinction.” That’s when his partner Hart enforces the no-talking rule in the squad car.

Harrelson provides a great performance as Hart, who has his own dark secrets. Unlike his partner, he respects faith-based ideologies, so it is impressive how much they still get along. He gives a deeper look into the life of some men on the police force who have to find means of dealing with the job.

But sometimes those means aim to destroy him. His affair with his wife begins to control him; he becomes jealous and displaced while his wife’s suspicions grow. He tries to make normal conversation with Rust but it always turns into a debate of convictions, although that does add some amusing dark humour to the show.

While it is his first time ever as a show runner, novelist Nic Pizzolatto has stepped up to the plate and delivered a fantastic and engaging television experience. One prevailing comment about the show is how slow it is in some episodes, but that’s because it is following a similar pacing method to that of HBO’s The Wire. Both shows follow the investigation in depth and in a realistic time frame. This isn’t like Criminal Minds or CSI where murders are solved every week. We are being taken on a journey not only to find the killer but to discover who he is and what influenced him to commit such a bizarre and ghastly murder. The primary focus of the show is a character profile of Rust and Hart and their opposing views of religion, police work, and social awareness, all the while trying to solve a murder that is slowly bringing about the downfall of both men.

Even though I’m only three episodes in, I already believe True Detective to be one of the best television shows I have watched in years. It offers a gritty new look on the cop vs. killer genre and holds more mysteries as to how the season will end and how it will continue afterward. Each season will be a different version of the case with new lead actors, so I’m enjoying McConaughey’s odd but intriguing performance as it unfolds.

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