True Detective: Season One - TV Review

'The main crux of True Detective isn't whodunit, it's whether the fallible Rust and Marty can survive.'

Great TV series leave a gap when they finish. Despite its excellent production values, I was ready for the last, meandering season of Game Of Thrones to go, and I haven't missed it during its absence. True Detective will leave a gap. A big gap. And I'm not sure the recently returned, much vaunted Game Of Thrones has the chops to fill it.

Where Thrones is oft-hailed as one of the sign-bearers for Nu TV, the kind that crosses film values and production to the small screen, it isn't really. Yes, it looks great and yes, there are recognisable names and yes, it has had a hell of a lot of money spent on it. It is still, however, dreadfully episodic and prone to huge dips as writers search for the necessary peaks of suspense, violence or joy to keep audiences watching.

True Detective has many more similarities with the movies. Like a true transposition of film into a longer medium, it stretches its story out by showing you more meaningful events, rather than building in superfluous detail. It rarely has recognisable dips that focus on backstory rather than plot (the second episode is something of an exception) and everything pivots around leads Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, as Detectives Rust Cohle and Marty Hart. Did I mention it had bona fide film stars? It has them too. The decision to make this an anthology series (Season Two will not feature Rust and Marty, and will potentially be set in a different time and place) guarantees it a favourable side on the argument that, really, this is an eight-hour epic.

It's success, though heavily influenced by the terrific McConaughey and Harrelson (I take the latter in the 'best' stakes, though it is close) also benefits from a superbly chosen behind-the-scenes creative team, led by showrunner/writer Nic Pizzolatto and director Cary Fukunaga. Occasionally Pizzolatto dips into Cohle's galactic philosophising too much, giving the character a pretentious air he isn't designed to have, but most of the time the writing is outstanding, neatly towing the line between the cop show clichés that are clichés for good reason and more experimental stuff which feels here for a reason, rather than here for the sake of it. Fukunaga, for his part, brings his washed out look and patient framing, benefiting hugely from Adam Arkapaw's cinematography. The slow zooms and still shots in this are magnificent.

All that would matter not a jot if this wasn't a story worth caring about. Rarely do Pizzolatto and Fukunaga step into territory that doesn't matter to you and the true arc of True Detective is where its true genius lies.

The main crux of True Detective isn't whodunit, it's whether the fallible Rust and Marty can survive. Whilst the killer or killers may ultimately be the people or person who may end their existence, he or she is not the thing that will kill them. Neither are really battling demons - Pizzolatto is too smart for that - but they are battling very human failings. Rust, detached and occasionally soporific, hides a brilliant mind to avoid attention and connection, things that have failed him in the past. Marty struggles with loyalty, family and his put-upon attachment to Rust. You care about True Detective because you care whether Rust and Marty overcome their battles. By the final scenes it's not exactly clear whether either has, though you want to hope it is possible. In a way it doesn't matter. Seeing them try has been enough.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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