Tuesday, January 14, 2014

True Crime

HBO has recently expanded their empire of shows set in Louisiana that have the word "True" in the title by debuting "True Detective." It's a dark-toned crime story, compacted into a brief six episodes. Each season -- should the show be picked up to return -- is planned to feature an entirely new case with entirely new characters. The short episode block and single season arc is deliberately crafted in an effort to attract A-list actors to make a foray into television. This time out, they landed Matthew McConaughey (who can now be called the Golden Globe winning Matthew McConaughey) and Woody Harrelson.

Based on the first episode, it's clear what drew these actors to the roles. Character is king on True Detective. More time is spent painting the picture of who these people are than the case they're working on. That's not really a bad thing, as the picture is a compelling one. The characters played by McConaughey and Harrelson are cast in the mold of buddy cop opposites, in that one is an upbeat, religious family man, while the other is a pessimistic, almost nihilistic loner. But there's far more to it than those simple sketches, and a component to the narrative that allows us to see how the characters change over the course of nearly two decades.

The dialogue on the show is sterling. It is in turns witty, contemplative, illuminating, and chilling. And it rolls of the tongues of the two leads (and the rest of the solid cast) perfectly; it rarely feels conspicuously overwritten, but natural in the mouths of the characters.

Oddly, what's weakest about the show is the case, the story itself. Granted, we've only had the first episode to get into things, but on the surface it all feels very much inspired by imagery seen on NBC's fantastic series Hannibal. And, in a testament to how surprisingly dark that network show is, the HBO version of it is barely any more explicit in its depiction. Of course, True Detective has made clear from the outset that the case won't be as important as the people, so this may not ultimately prove to be much of a shortcoming for the show.

I would give the first episode a B. It's intriguing enough for me to try another episode... and since that will put me one-third of the way through the season, I reckon I'll be there for the duration unless that next episode is somehow terrible.

No comments: