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You Should Be Watching: 'True Detective'

First-rate crime drama. Cerebral scripts. A brooding atmosphere. True Detective has all that and features gripping investigations in Louisiana and California; it will move to the Ozarks in its recently green-lit third season.

Title: True Detective

Year it began: 2014

Where it can be seen: HBO; Amazon; DVD

Who’s in it: Matthew McConaughey; Woody Harrelson; Tory Kittles; Michael Potts; Michelle Monaghan; Colin Farrell; Rachel McAdams; Vince Vaughn; Taylor Kitsch

Typical episode length: 60 minutes

Number of episodes to date: 16

Brief plot description: Season 1 follows a detective’s refusal to give up on a complex case in rural Louisiana. Season 2 features multiple law enforcement agencies interacting in California.

Why it’s worth watching: With its flashes of intense action alternating with its eerily calm pacing, True Detective offers mesmerizing and innovative television. With breathtaking directing by Cary Fukunaga and razor-sharp writing by creator Nic Pizzolatto, the first season of True Detective generates a wonderfully melancholy, Southern-Gothic atmosphere. At the heart of the first season’s success are the sublime performances of McConaughey as Rusten Cohle and Harrelson as Martin Hart—two detectives whose investigation into a single murder spirals into a gut-wrenching, seventeen-year saga. McConaughey’s Cohle is a brilliant, intense loner whose excellence as a detective is directly related to his traumatic history and dark view of existence. Harrelson’s Hart is a flawed family man whose conservative approach to life and work become upended by his respect for Cohle’s investigative relentlessness. The chemistry between the philosophically morbid Cohle and the earnest, but selfish Hart is simply electrifying. The first season has a fascinatingly fragmented time-structure, as extended flashbacks are integrated with present-day interviews by veteran Detective Gilbough (played coolly by Potts) and the younger, more intense Detective Papania (played exquisitely by Kittles). Monaghan delivers a fine performance as Maggie Hart, with her self-respect and compassion for her daughters countering her spouse’s cruel narcissism. Talented director Fukunaga weaves a spellbinding story by deftly managing moody music, gorgeous cinematography, and a superlative cast.  While lacking the absorbing existentialist commentary that enlivens the first season’s malevolent criminal conspiracy, Season 2 continues the show’s focus on a labyrinthine investigation. With conflicted figures such as Farrell’s Raymond Velcoro and McAdams’ Antigone Bezzerides, and with corruption always threatening to emerge, True Detective continues to explore the dark side of law enforcement.

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