Third-episode verdict: True Detective (HBO/Sky Atlantic)

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 2

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

I’m three episodes into HBO and Sky Atlantic’s new anthology show, True Detective, and I have to say that it’s really good – with a couple of caveats.

Pretty much everything about it is excellent – the script, the casting, the acting, the direction. You name it, it’s good. However, largely, it ain’t a detective show. While ostensibly about the reopening of a 17-year-old serial killer case that detectives Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey investigated back in ’95, this is instead a two-handed musing on the nature of policework, faith, life, death, sex, love and more, with McConaughey the traumatisted, asexual, nihilist, atheist, drug addict detective who thinks life is nothing more than chemicals and we should all kill ourselves, Harrelson the regular, personable Christian, adulterous, everyman, family man who thinks McConaughey should just go kill himself. Most of each episode is the two of them, in a car or at a crime scene, discussing why human beings are such crap/fun, stupid/smart, and hating on each other.

Against this very smart, intellectual backdrop, we have the crime itself, which sees Harrelson and McConaughey exploring Louisiana and discovering just how miserable life is for the poor, the dispossessed, the female, the mentally challenged and others. There’s been some police work, but for the first two episodes at least, it was a mere backdrop to the foreground of philosophy and characterisation.

Thing is, this had made the show very good and very clever, but very hard and slow to watch. With unpleasantness and darkness all around, it’s been a show you have to make yourself tune in for, rather than one you actively want to watch.

Episode three, though, has seen the first real stirrings of the main plot and was much the better for it, adding some flesh to the mere skeleton the first two episodes provided. And it looks like there’s more to come in later episodes, too.

So, if you can deal with the dark and nasty and like your TV drama talky and philosophical, then True Detective is very definitely the show for you. If not, good though it may be, you might want to keep your distance.

Barrometer rating: 2
Rob’s prediction: Likely to get renewed for another season, but given it’s an anthology show, with a different cast and story each season, who knows after that?

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.