Rotten Tomatoes: Art Stukas's TV Ratings on Rotten Tomatoes

TV Ratings and Reviews

True Detective : Season 1
½

I have limited myself almost entirely to feature films in recent years even as it became obvious that the long-form TV serial was attracting bigger stars, budgets, and acclaim. Perhaps David Lynch?s Twin Peaks third series was the turning point, although it still seems easier to pick up the DVD set to watch a series than to try to set my clock to catch it each week. In this case, the 2014 series of True Detective was available at the local library ? I binge-watched the 8 episodes across three nights. Why? Because indeed it was gripping enough to compel me to continue watching. And if you want to get the same enjoyment of the series, then I suggest you stop reading now so as not to learn too much (i.e., there may be spoilers below). The plot is pure pulp, a serial killer detective thriller not unlike The Silence of the Lambs (1991) or Seven (1995). In fact, the main events at the start of the series do take place in 1995 in Louisiana ? but they are recounted by the two detectives, Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey), from a future vantage point in 2012. The first few episodes are part standard detective work and part revelations about the personal lives of both men ? Hart is married (to Michelle Monaghan) with two small daughters and Cohle is single with a mysterious past. Both have their flaws (Hart is cheating on his wife, Cohle takes a seriously pessimistic view of human nature) but I think audience identification would have to be with Cohle, even though the 2012 version we see of him is pretty burned out. As the men tell their stories, we start to wonder whether they are both telling the truth or whether (in Rashomon-like fashion) what we are learning is biased to suit their own self-interest. At a certain point, the events on the screen do not reflect the stories being told by Hart and Cohle to, it turns out, the two police detectives interviewing them. And just like that, in 1995, the case seems solved and there is a bit of focus on Hart?s personal life until we fast-forward to 2002, when things fall apart in the relationship between the two men and the story stops for ten years. This is where the ability to have 400 minutes (or more) to play with helps to give the story greater weight and depth then might be possible in a two-hour film. In particular, across six or so episodes, there is a growing sense that the real killer had never been caught and that Cohle is now a prime suspect. We don?t know for sure whether the burned out Cohle really could be warped enough by the events of his past (which are revealed to be quite harsh) to lead him to a copycat crime (or perhaps he even had some involvement in the original crimes). Returning completely to 2012 and picking up events when the men (who have been interviewed separately) meet up to discuss their encounters with the police (both long since off the force), the final episodes offer an exciting return to detective work with a renewed fervour -- and then we are back to the straightforward narrative of the thriller, in the mode of the first few episodes, expertly edited and directed (by Cory Joji Fukunaga) with great aerial shots of Louisiana and perfect attention to creepy mise-en-scene. To be honest, however, this felt a bit of a let-down because, no matter how much mystical or philosophical shit Cohle spouts, it can?t help being a genre film in the end rather than something that looked as though it might transcend the genre. That said, it was a gripping and fascinating ride, extremely well-acted by McConaughey, Harrelson, and Monaghan ? and all the unique actors in small parts. Being on HBO meant sex, drugs, violence, and each episode ended with a well-chosen moody song. If the detective thriller is your cup of (strong) tea, then this series is highly recommended.