Mini-review: True Detective 1×1 (HBO/Sky Atlantic)

True Detective

In the US: Sundays, 9pm, HBO
In the UK: Saturdays, 9pm, Sky Atlantic. Starts February 22

You do have to give a credit to HBO for trying something a little bit new with True Detective. For starters, it’s an anthology detective show: like American Horror Story, each season will consist of eight episodes and involve completely different characters and situations.

But season one is giving us this: a 17-year-long investigation of a serial killer in Louisiana, with Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey as the ill matched detective partners who visibly age as the narrative progresses and jumps between times as it’s told in a series of flashbacks. Harrelson is the personable, probably adulterous family man, McConaughey the depressed Texan philosopher who tries to counter his lonely sleepless nights with Quaaludes.

It’s not easy viewing, another show that seems to revel in mutated dead female corpses arranged in rituals. McConaughey’s nihilism is bleak indeed. And there’s no one you can really warm to. It’s also very slow moving.

But it’s excellently done. The slow pace gives everything time to breath. With a talent it was hard to spot a decade ago but which has become almost commonplace in his recent work (the so-called “McConaughaissance”) McConaughey is great as the focused, lonely, emotionally empty Cohle. Older time periods are recreated well, although you’d be hard-pushed to guess that everything begins in 1995. There’s a fair few supporting cast from The Wire (Clarke Peters, Michael Potts). And it’s smart, giving you things to thing about for a change.

It’s not clear yet how much the actual crime is going to be worth investigating, but with its broken structure, we have many more mysteries than just that to keep us intrigued. Give it a try, but be prepared to be patient and pay attention.

Author

  • I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.