Matthew McConaughey. Woody Harrelson. HBO. How could you possibly go wrong? Common sense says that you cannot. So why didn’t I run out and watch this immediately when it was made available? Certainly my schedule was a factor; I’m a busy man. But if I’m being honest, I think the real reason might be that I was worried the show would let me down. My expectations are so high for True Detective. I want to like it so badly that I’m worried I won’t.
The show follows two Louisiana detectives, Rustin Cohle (McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Harrelson), as they track down a serial killer in 1995. But in the present day (technically the distant wilds of 2012) the two men may be brought back together for a very similar purpose.
Of course the main thing to address here is the acting. Both leads are putting their all into this project. There’s a lot of depth to these characters that we have only just begun to mine in this first episode. Neither actor has ever really had an opportunity to expore deep themes in a long-form story such as this one (Woody from Cheers is a great character, but there isn’t a whole lot of depth there). We can already see indicators of Cohle’s tortured past, and signs that Hart is not entirely as good as he initially appears. I very much look forward to seeing where this goes.
Unfotunately, thusfar, the show is resting entirely on these two men. That’s kind of the point (although which one of them is the titular “true” detective remains to be seen). Writer Nic Pizzalatto is clearly building something epic in his story, but we’re only seeing the edges of it right now. And while there is potential in some of the other characters – Hart’s wife, Maggie (Michelle Monaghan), two current day detectives (Michael Potts, Tory Kittles), even Lester Freamon himself (Clarke Peters) in a very small role – none of them have received enough attention just yet. Regardess, I have faith in the program based on what I’ve seen so far.
The show looks great. We get a lot of revealing shots of Louisiana, and the cinematography itself has a vintage aesthetic to it, presumably to evoke the ’90s. The show’s intertwining of timelines also adds a sense of surreality to the proceedings. It’s hard to tell what parts of this come from the writing and what parts come from director Cary Joji Fukunaga. I haven’t looked in to the behind-the-scenes activity of the show, so I’m not sure just yet if Pizzalatto is running the thing, or if Fukunaga gets to treat it like his next eight-hour movie.
All of this aside, True Detective is a show rife with potential that is just waiting to burst out. The first episode didn’t completely bowl me over like I hoped it would, but there was enough good stuff in “The Long Bright Dark” to bring me back for the second episode. Expectations will only get higher from here on out, so here’s hoping the cast and crew are more than willing to meet them.