It’s usually just expected for HBO to knock things out of the park, but they’ve really outdone themselves here. After the absolute mess that “American Horror Story” became, I was ecstatic to see what looked like a high quality anthology series on a top-tier channel. “True Detective” sets a pretty high standard with its brooding premiere, and it’s thanks in no small portion to the recently amazing Matthew McConaughey.
“True Detective” is an anthology series, which means new, contained stories each season. The debut season follows Detectives Cohle and Hart on the ritualistic murder case of a young prostitute, Dora Lange. Cohle is the new guy with the shady past and the pessimistic view of the world. Hart is the straight arrow, who just doesn’t want to be weirded out by his new partner every ten minutes. While investigating another missing girl, the detectives discover a twig sculpture identical to one found at the murder scene. The bulk of the action, taking place in 1995, is told in flashback by both detectives recounting the story for official record in the present. Hart (Harrelson) has gone into private security, while Cohle (McConaughey) is drunk, disillusioned, and seems to be the one figuring out that the inquiry into his old cases is about something bigger, and current.
“It’s Thursday and it’s past noon. Thursday’s one of my days off. On my days off I start drinking at noon. You don’t get to interrupt that.”
The story takes place in a small, desolate town in Louisiana, and it is a superb backdrop to this dark, menacing tale. The town is as bleak and full of contempt as the crimes taking place there. Director Cary Fukunaga does well at using the town to recreate a realistic, immersive 90s atmosphere without it seeming gimmicky or cliche. This is complimented by a terrific, bluesy-rock soundtrack that sets the tone for the whole hour. HBO’s more grand period pieces are known for creating fantastic, engaging worlds, and the subtlety and nuance of “True Detective” is up to par with all of them.
The performances are terrific all around. Harrelson’s Hart is a great, down-to-Earth straight man. The real star though is McConaughey. The one-time Wodderson, only known for his creepy take on high school girls has proven himself a true thespian in the last year. With an award-winning turn in “Dallas Buyer’s Club”, and a scene-stealing role in “The Wolf of Wall Street”, his career seems to be peaking at super sonic speed. And somehow he has the time to put in a full force performance for HBO as well. His performance is one-part “A Time to Kill” with two-parts “Frailty”, and a little “Mud” for flavour. And it’s fantastic. His dark, and intriguing Detective Cohle is equally mesmerizing and unsettling all at once.
“This place is like someone’s memory of a town. And the memory’s fading.”
So, yes; HBO has knocked another one out of the park with this premiere. It’s a welcome return to the anthology format, and hopefully the rest of the season lives up to the high standard it’s set for itself. “True Detective” could very well go down as one of the great new dramas, and maybe it’ll help fill that “Breaking Bad” void we’re all feeling. Either way, be sure to tune in next week for more Louisiana darkness.