Tag Archives: True Detective

Truth and lies: the final word on “True Detective”

Alright, Alright, Alright.

I watched the eighth and final episode of season one of True Detective this morning, twelve hours after the first airing.  True Detective, the groundbreaking (certainly in form – more on this in a bit) HBO series and the current holder of the “show everyone is talking about” championship belt (wrestled away from House of Cards sometime in the last three weeks), has slowly dug its aggressive nails into my blood stream of admiration and enjoyment.  As further indication of both its cultural impact and the rampant account password freeloading that is taking place within its on-line streaming paradise (of which I am an admitted transgressor – thank you, Dad), HBO Go literally crashed last night due to over use (the fact that Girls had one of its best episodes of the season last night certainly did not help), asking me and millions of others hoping to experience the final chapter in the Rust Cohle and Marty Hart saga to “try again later.”  This delay was perhaps a blessing in disguise, especially having watched the beautiful, but sensory overloaded series premiere of the new Cosmos right before I turned on my Apple TV HBO Go interface to indulge in True Detective.  Alert and with a rested mind, I sat down this morning to finish the story.

Much of the written word chatter on old reliables (publications like Entertainment Weekly, Vulture, and HitFix) last week was all about possible theories to the Yellow King “who-done-it” central mystery of this season.  Who was the Yellow King?  Were either Marty or Rust somehow involved in all of these serial murders?  What is up with the present day uniformed detectives that spent so much of the first six episodes listening intently to 2012 Marty and Rust wax poetic on a seventeen-year-old case and the minutia of their fated relationship?  Is there a reason all the facts of the case seem so hazy even after only seven episodes of content?  Honestly, I didn’t have time to spend culling through all of these case resolution theories, and admittedly, I didn’t really care.

I spoke to my Dad last night to try to make sense of it all.  On the eve of the final episode of the season, I had totally bought in to True Detective, but something felt so different than the other shows (and particularly central mystery experiences like Broadchurch) I have cherished in recent years.  My Dad’s admission, and subsequently, his implicit permission for one of my own, gave some perspective.  I am paraphrasing here, but my Dad said something like, “I really love True Detective – the direction, the actors, the characters – and you know me, I figure out what is going on, but Dave, with this one, I really have no clue what is happening and I am not sure it even matters.”  I now had permission to know that my appreciation for True Detective had nothing to do with my ability to follow any part of the central mystery that I freely admit had me completely lost.

(SPOILER ALERT!!!) When the closing scene between Marty and Rust at the hospital faded to dark, the light that my Dad and I thought we couldn’t see all season had actually been seen all along.  The identity of the Yellow King and the corruption that surrounded the eventual scarred face of the serial killing didn’t really matter to us viewers (even though his schizophrenic accents were of great intrigue).  The central mystery was just a device to tell the true story of these two detectives and because it was something they obsessed over, we were along for ride after ride, as ill-advised and remote as they often were.  All along, True Detective was always just about Marty and Rust and their internal battles between light and darkness.  One of the chattering critiques of this first season of True Detective was its surface level and often one-noted depiction of women.  I now get, as frustrating as it was at times, why this was a justified byproduct of a consummate adherence to the central conceit.  Our story was through the lens and into the depths of Marty and Rust’s eyes and souls.  Anything else, including woman that either informed them (as Maggie, reliably, certainly did) or informed us (Marty’s sea of affairs) about this light and darkness struggle, were there to support our understanding of the truth of these two detectives.

To rebuke some of the inevitable “that was it” backlash that comes from a mystery ending that didn’t matter too much in the first place, True Detective leaves three primary legacies in its high grassed swamps of Louisiana.  The first is in its storytelling form.  To set most of the story in three distinctive time periods, often without confirming the circumstances or solvency of the given truth, felt at times revelatory.  Lost played with this time period jumping trope, but eventually and disappointingly toward a science fictional end.  In contrast, for a while there, True Detective’s interest level stemmed from questioning the circumstances of the 2012 present (Rust Cohle beer can after beer can-crushing and all) set against the plot moving and “A story” 1995 past.  Maintaining this type of uncertainty about the show we were actually watching for most of the season gave each episode a burst of intrigue.

The second takeaway from True Detective, although at times leading to a restrictive tunneled vision, was the complete execution of a series by one writer and one director.  If you are to make me pick sides, I am more on Team Director Cary Fukunaga (not back for season two – the cinema is calling) than on Team Writer Nic Pizzolatto (back for more truth and lies in season two), but the consistency of this one unified vision certainly can be felt throughout the series (I think a few more idea cooks in the creative kitchen would have been of benefit, but the end result did by no means suffer all that much).  Like the now understood “a case study of two characters” was why to watch the series, Pizzolatoo and Fukunaga and their pursuit of greatness was why watching was so enjoyable.

The final lasting legacy of True Detective will be as a brilliant model for the ascension of the television medium through the casting and subsequent performances of its two lead actors, Matthew “2014: see the year of” McConaughey and Woody Harrelson.  It was not lost on me as I watched McConaughey’s gut-wrenching and flawless final monologue that I had just spent eight hours of television with the reigning Best Actor (I still think Leo should have won!) Academy Award-winner.  McConaughey and his inevitable Emmy win (a confident prediction on this March day) speak to how television gives to character and story in a way that film cannot.  Our relationship with Rust Cohl and Marty Hart over eight hours provides a different degree of depth and understanding.  I hope this more flexible forum (in terms of schedule) that True Detective pioneered for truly great movie actors like McConaughey and Harrelson to have such freedom to explore characters in a more meaningful way will set the tone for other future limited series.  For now, we can speculate who will fill the big shoes that McConaughey and Harrelson have left to a new set of season two lead actors and relish in the journey that was into the cavernous deep of Marty and Rust’s truth.  L’Chaim!

TV Tales 2014 – 71st Golden Globes, TRUE DETECTIVE, GIRLS, REAL WORLD: EX-PLOSION

With television’s recent array of Golden Age shows (many would argue that Mad Men is the last of this early 2000s bunch) coming to the end of their runs (and in Mad Men’s case, it will be a long final lap – the final season is being drawn out over two years – AMC!), the next wave of contenders are all vying for their standing in our DVR queues and paid streaming service binges (as enabled by the passwords we mooch off our parents).  2013 was a masterful year of television.  It brought us some most promising new dramatic series talent (Masters of Sex, The Americans, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black), brilliant material from our British friends across the Atlantic (Black Mirror, Broadchurch), a most welcome return of the mini-series (Top of the Lake), some established shows continuing to find their sweet spot (of which Game of Thrones was my favorite), and the best season of television I have ever seen (the final season of Breaking Bad).

2014 is ready to build on this momentum with dozens of most intriguing upcoming shows (I have “summer” already circled on my calendar for the premiere of The Leftovers, Damon Lindelof’s post Lost television project on HBO), most welcome returns of old flames (even 24 wants some of the good will), and the continued maturation and evolution of a medium that is at the center of the collective pop culture conversation.  I will be commenting every few weeks on the many television musings that come across my path throughout the year, make recommendations, and will try to make sense of the changes in the “what” and “how” of how we consume our TV.  There is no better place to begin than last night…

THE 71st GOLDEN GLOBES

Some of my television-centric takeaways (there will be no Jacqueline Bisset sanity inquiries here)…

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• Although Brooklyn Nine-Nine remains the only fall 2013 new network show that I consistently watch each week, I admit that it is still finding its comedic and storytelling footing.  Its win for Best Television Series – Comedy and Best Performance by An Actor in a Comedy Series for Andy Samberg were both a bit of a surprise and may be a little before their time, but I like this symbolic vote of confidence.  With The Office and 30 Rock gone, The Mindy Project mired in an unfortunate vortex of quality inconsistency, Modern Family recycling most stories, and the brilliant Parks and Recreation a brutal victim of NBC’s horrendous scheduling decision quality and on its likely final local government campaign, the network single camera throne is up for grabs.  Brooklyn Nine-Nine may just have the goods to take it and with a full season already ordered and a coveted (and unexpected) post-Super Bowl slot to showcase it to the masses, the Golden Globes wins may be a harbinger for promising things to come.  After so many too early show cancellations, the thought of the great Andre Braugher with a stable job is the ultimate form of television justice.  I will be rooting for it.

• Apparently the people in charge of the seating chart didn’t get the memo that the people winning television awards would need easy access to the stage.  The Breaking Bad creative team seemed to have to journey from a room across the street to accept Best Television Series – Drama.

• Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were as lovely as ever, but I thought last year’s hosting performance was more memorable.  Something seemed to be a little too produced this year, whereas last year had a more organic feel throughout (this does not include Amy Poehler’s make out session with Bono after her award acceptance).

• Speaking of Amy Poehler and awards, her win (finally!) for Parks and Recreation could not have been more deserved.

• Although NBC must be happy with the best Golden Globe ratings in years, the biggest television winner of the night may have been Lorne Michaels and his Saturday Night Live empire.  With Amy and Tina hosting, Amy and Andy winning comedic acting awards, and as the heavy promotional material kept reminding you, Jimmy Fallon and Seth Myers starting new late night gigs in February, it is a good time to be Lorne.  Even SNL alum Julia Louis-Dreyfus was game for some of the best gags of the night.

• Aaron Paul loves award shows and loves opportunities in which he can be Jesse Pinkman again.  There is no one more excited for the 2014 Emmys.

• Line of the night from Tina Fey: “And now, like a supermodel’s vagina, let’s all give a warm welcome to Leonardo DiCaprio.” Zing!  Leo, who deservedly one Best Actor in a Comedy Film, could not have taken the roast more graciously.

TRUE DETECTIVE

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Just about the time when P. Diddy sang “Let it Flow” and confused the audience after U2 won its Best Original Song Golden Globe for “Ordinary Love,” HBO unleashed its new anthology series, True Detective, starring movie stars Woody Harrelson (an old television veteran) and Matthew McConaughey, the early frontrunner for “Best 2014 of any person on Earth” (the Golden Globe win for Best Actor in Dallas Buyer’s Club later in the evening is just the beginning).  Harrelson and McConaughey play Louisiana detectives investigating a brutal, satanic murder in 1995.  Storytelling uniquely combines interviews from 2012 with flashbacks to 1995.  True Detective’s first season (and the only one Harrelson and McConaughey will appear) will run eight episodes and complete a serialized mystery story.  According to showrunner Nic Pizzolatto, future seasons will star different actors and will feature a different central mystery.  The conceit is intriguing on its own, but, after watching the premiere, the show has the potential to be something really special.  Its unique voice and vision are already clearly defined (each episode is written by Pizzolatto and directed by Cary Kukunaga) and the performances, especially McConaughey, will win awards.  I will write more on it as the season progresses, but for now, you cannot ask for a more engrossing first hour of a series.

GIRLS

In what can only be seen as accidental counter programming, the Girls season three premiere (two episodes!) debuted right after True Detective.  Early trends include much more Adam and Shoshana (both are great things) and a focus on the relationships of these girls to each other as opposed to these girls to their respective, challenging lives.  Some of season 2 landed as a reaction to the unnecessary and unyielding criticism mounted on season 1 for reasons unbeknownst to logic.  My hope for the uber-talented Miss Dunham here is continue to make the show that she wants to make.  Already, some of the humor that had drifted away last season seems to be back (I will gladly take more scenes between Adam and Shoshana!) and I think Marnie will only benefit from having Charlie completely out of the picture (Apparently Christopher Abbott wasn’t sure he wanted to play the character anymore.  Oops.).  I will definitely be spending some quality time with HBO on Sunday nights for the foreseeable future (Another piece of gold in its 2014 treasure chest of riches had its coming out party last night as well. HBO released the first trailer for the fourth season of Game of Thrones.  Yep.)

Real World: Ex-Plosion

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Finally, the premiere of season 29 of The Real World debuted on Wednesday night.  If you have spent any time on the Bishop and Company site, you know that my relationship with The Real World and its amazing offshoot, The Challenge, is longstanding, loyal, and passionate.  Despite trepidation about the new format – the true story of seven strangers picked to live together and then…Surprise!  Your exes are also moving in – I was obviously going to give it a shot.  My true story after Wednesday – I hated it (critics seem to agree).  Yes, the exes have not moved in yet (as the countdown clock won’t seem to let me forget), but the show I watched on Wednesday night was not The Real World that I have given so much of my viewing lifeblood to watch.  Obviously, The Real World has been a different show than its original version, a social experiment dealing with real issues and the reality tv pioneer, for some time now, but this show did even resemble the positive things about recent incarnations.  Everything on it felt forced and overtly contrived, from the camera crews capturing the acceptance phone calls, to the decision to show boom mics and cameramen on person, to Ashley’s phone call to production about where they were going out that night.  Because the exes conceit is its central premise, we are inundated with conversations about exes and all the potential ensuing drama.  I wasn’t having any of it.  Begrudgingly, out of loyalty and respect to this beloved franchise, and to scout for future The Challenge competitors, I will at least stick around to see how the exes arrival goes down (25 days!), but I am considering jumping off of this sinking ship.

David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about MTV’s “The Challenge,” pop culture, and the NBA for Bishop and Company.