Dark Night Detectives
Tripwire continues its list of its Top 30 Crime and Police shows, selected by its editor-in-chief and senior editor. Counting down to its first choice at the end, here’s its 6th entry, HBO’s True Detective…
6. True Detective
Creator: Nic Pizzolatto
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Monaghan
Nic Pizzolatto’s first instalment of HBO’s anthology series is a tour de force in knowing, referential police drama, informed by earlier, equally lauded HBO shows. Despite the unreconstructed, overtly-masculine leads, the series is a progressive work that breaks boundaries and conventions, relying on atmospherics, non-linear narrative, fluid characterization and an existential approach to procedural drama. In their quest to track down a serial killer with an inevitably dramatic flair, Louisiana detectives Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Hart (Woody Harrelson) rewrite the book of feuding partnerships, their obviously mismatched personalities and differences somehow forcing the pair to regroup after estrangement.
Despite the series veering closely to being overwritten in places, the ambitious direction and script, coupled with the American gothic and Fellini-esque naturalism of the Louisiana backwoods, make for a truly compulsive eight episodes. Cohle’s mannered, relentless musings on death, existence and the human condition are diametrically opposite the conservative mores of the region, framing the story and adding depth, with Hart his reluctant and at times comedic foil. Both teeter on the edge of breakdown, mistreating their wives or partners, reverting to type, while rationalising what they do – these are deeply flawed men.
Even though the action seems sluggish in places, some of the set pieces are phenomenal, such as the Iron Crusaders robbery sequence, shot in one six minute take, while the interiors, be they a bar, police station or motel room, are edgy and claustrophobic. The expansive and at times grotesque setting, especially the killer’s lair, are the foreboding stuff of nightmarish decay, and very much set this series apart from other police projects.
Regardless of the presence of a strong supporting cast, True Detective is a two hander with both leads at their career best, with McConaughey a study in method inhabitation of character – his preparation and commitment to the role (something he is famed for) providing a uniquely compelling take on the television detective. But it’s the endlessly quotable script (no question McConaughey gets nearly all of the best lines!) that elevates the show to its status as one of the best of its kind. This was a cop show that dared to fail, its weighty dialogue occasionally overwrought or indulgent – yet it succeeded admirably, its pacey storytelling never letting the viewer off the hook for a moment. And like the top programs on this list, it easily bears repeat viewing.
True Detective is on Amazon Prime in the UK and on Amazon Prime in the US now