True Detective, the new HBO serialized drama, is only halfway through its first season, but is already considered one of the best shows on television. Everyone seems to be on board with this sentiment, including President Obama, who has revealed he is a big fan of the show.
True Detective tells the story of two Louisiana homicide detectives, played very convincingly by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, investigating a string of possible serial killings in 1995. The narrative jumps forward 17 years later when the original case is reopened by another pair of detectives who question McConaughey and Harrelson about their handling of the case, and proceeds to alternate back and forth.
Critics are falling over themselves complimenting the new series, and the consistent praise is understandable. True Detective is a wonderful character study and an example of truly great storytelling. The show is something of a slow burn, which may be a turnoff to those who require an immediate narrative payoff, but the methodical pacing of the show makes it all the more brilliant, imploring the viewer to simply enjoy the ride.
The initial success of True Detective is certainly nothing new for HBO, which continues to set the standard for quality dramatic programming. This new police procedural will remind many of David Simon’s The Wire, which ended its magnificent run in 2008 but is still treated with reverence and spoken of in hushed tones. The two shows are similar in many ways; besides the obvious connection to law enforcement, the dark nature of each series is somewhat offset by humor. And of course there are the great character studies as well.
The man responsible for True Detective is show runner Nic Pizzolatto, while the director and cinematographer is Cary Fukunaga. The award-winning Fukunaga was interviewed recently by Salon, commenting on comparisons to The Wire and his show’s attempts at balancing the dark and the light:
I think we achieved it at times, and then stuff we thought would be funnier didn’t really carry over. It’s a tricky balance to keep up with the tone of what we’re doing and to allow for some levity and humor. I guess, similar to “The Wire,” it’s pretty densely written.
True Detective is not exactly feel good, cheerful television, but this dark and haunting drama offers a great combination of skilled acting and top-notch storytelling, not to mention the amazing cinematography. It will be very interesting to see what direction the show takes with the final episodes of the first season.