Had I seen it before: No.
What IMDb says: Seasonal anthology series in which police investigations unearth the personal and professional secrets of those involved, both within and outside the law.
Why I picked it: This show was heavily referenced in Writing the Pilot: Creating the Series, the book that inspired this whole project. Not only was it immensely popular, but it was also created by a relatively inexperienced writer. Creator Nic Pizzolatto wrote a couple of episodes for The Killing but that was his only TV experience, although he had written a novel and some short stories.
I also thought it could be kinda fun to explore an anthology series since those are becoming an en vogue thing to do. Season 1 of True Detective was a success by all definitions of the word, but Season 2 seemed to let everybody down. Do pilots for these types of shows have to work differently than pilots for traditional tv shows? It’s a question for the ages.
What I liked: There’s something oddly satisfying about Woody Harrelson saying everything I wish I could say to Matthew McConaughey. It’s like one of those car commercials where McConaughey is running his mouth about God knows what but then Harrelson cuts in with a:
On a more serious note, the pilot does a good job of focusing on the dynamic between Rust and Marty. I’ve spent a lot of time bitching about how characters need to be fascinating in their own right, and this is a good example of that. We’re not just interested in them because they happen to be homicide detectives. We learn about how they process the world around them and how they approach police work differently. We get glimpses into their personal lives. We learn their philosophical beliefs. There’s this sense that watching these two characters interact would still be interesting even if they weren’t trying to solve a murder mystery.
This dynamic might not seem like much, but it helps the pilot to feel a little less formulaic than other shows in this genre. Usually the plot of these shows goes like this: Someone is dead. Our protagonists must figure out why and throw some murderous motherfucker in jail. That’s it. True Detective has that to some extent, but in a lot of ways the actual murder case plays second fiddle to the tension between our lead detectives. We know they’ve had a falling out since solving this initial case. We know they respected each other as detectives despite not really getting along as friends. My curiosity to see where this relationship goes is a greater motivation to watch Episode 2 than the actual murder case, and I kind of like that. Maybe that’s a piece to the puzzle as to why Season 2 of True Detective didn’t get the same buzz as Season 1, since these two characters aren’t in it.
What I didn’t like: It moves pretty slowly. It wasn’t until my third attempt watching it that I didn’t fall asleep which is partly just because I tried to watch it after long work days, but also partly because there’s some long stretches where nothing appears to be happening. There’s a lot of standing around asking questions which is to be expected from a detective show, but bear in mind a lot of those shows are not HBO, meaning they’re 42 minutes rather than a full hour. This pilot is longer than others of its genre without really feeling like more is happening.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Not really. Thought to be honest, it may just be because detective shows aren’t my jam. As interesting as Rust and Marty are together, I’m not sure I really believe they can stay that interesting for another hour.
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