True Detective – TV’s Best Show

HBO has a long history of developing and producing some of the best scripted programming on television and True Detective will rank among them.

These days it’s rare to see a show that can fire on all creative cylinders. FX’s Louie comes close, AMC’s The Walking Dead is on its third or fourth show runner and is losing steam and Breaking Bad closed shop. So when it comes to peak creativity, it’s not a very deep well.

2013 was the year of Matthew McConaughey and it’s nice to finally see him  becoming the actor he should have been 20 years ago. He continues his string of stellar performances here as the electric Detective Rust Cohle.

Cohle is a present yet disconnected and misanthropically wired guy that allows McConaughey the latitude to create the kind of nuanced performance that is peerless.

Cohle does this thing when he is in a particularly tense situation; he takes his index and middle finger and places them on his neck to check his pulse. It’s little choices like that which make this such an incredible performance.

Woody Harrelson, as Detective Martin Hart, proves why he is easily one of the most reliable and effective actors of this, or any, generation. A cops cop, his Hart is the misguided grounding wire to McConaughey’s Cohle.

These two characters are both seriously flawed and couldn’t be more different. At its core, it’s the same old mismatched “odd couple” cop drama, but these two performances move it way beyond that kind of simple label.

True Detective’s creator, writer and show runner is Nic Pizzolatto. With one novel, Galveston, a book of short stories and having written two episodes of AMC’s The Killing, Pizzolatto is, by Hollywood standards, somewhat of a neophyte.

Here again credit has to be given to HBO for taking a chance on a guy with virtually no television experience. And to give him such creative control … hats off to HBO.

While all eight episodes were written by Pizzolatto, they were all directed by Cary Fukunaga, who is probably best known for directing 2011’s Jane Eyre. I can’t believe I am gonna write this, but now I am curious to see that movie.

This past Sunday’s episode was the fulcrum of the series and it ranks as one of the most suspenseful hours of television I have ever seen. Reaching its apogee with an INCREDIBLE six minute single take tracking shot.

This is the type of extended shot that ranks up there with Orson Welles opening shot in Touch of Evil and Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas

Having the four principles, Harrelson, McConaughey, Pizzolatta and Fukunaga working on the entire series makes it less televisiony and more cinematic in scope. We, as viewers, benefit from their symbiotic relationship because it allows for a singular voice and vision for the series; which in turn gives the creative partners the freedom to demand, and get, pin point precision storytelling.

I’ve written about my love of British detective shows. Their focus is less on who did it and more on the characters and the unfolding of the story.

Even more than that, the British don’t beat the snot out of the series. When it’s done, it’s done. For example, Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, while not a procedural, has two series (series = season) under its belt and a total of six episodes with a third series is on the way. The British seem less concerned about bleeding a show creatively dry and more concerned with making the story shine.

It appears as though HBO may have finally taken notice. For whatever reason, we’re calling True Detective and its kind, “anthology series”. While I am not sure a label is necessary, apparently, things can only exist in America if they have a label.

True Detective won’t get drawn out. It’s an eight episode storyline. That’s it.

Certainly the story may prove a little myopic or pedantic to some but then these are probably the same type of people who spend their spare time trying to keep up with those idiotic Kardashian’s. In other words, they’re not the target demographic for a show like True Detective

Unlike the shit show that the major networks try to convince us is quality television, HBO continues to make a strong argument for destination scripted programming. While I remain convinced binge viewing is a better programming choice for scripted shows, True Detective certainly puts a dent in that hypothesis (however, I do look forward to bingeing again on all eight episodes when they’re available).

If you’re not watching True Detective, you are missing one of the most explosive and creatively exciting shows on American television.