TV Review: True Detective

At the height of my illness I was exercising a lot, well to be precise I was rowing a lot, alright I was ergo’ing a lot. Now a lot of people like to listen to thumping house music, some as I later transition to, enjoy audio books but to begin with I was into American TV programmes.

For months and months I rowed meter after meter as The West Wing, The Wire, House, Rookie Blue, The Mentalist, Breaking Bad all came and went, each and every series devoured and so, when through Twitter I was introduced to True Detective, America’s latest “hit show” I was never going to pass it by. Now, taking slow, small steps to recovery, and no longer owning my Concept 2, season 1 of True Detective was enjoyed from the comfort of an arm chair rather than a cold, hard sweaty seat going to and fro.

Now, with the season finale only airing on UK satellite TV last night I am going to try, as always, to not give away the ending, plot spoil or generally tell you what happens, but rather, give my general feelings to the 8 episodes that make up this opening act. But I must just cover my backside and apologise in advance if anything I say gives anything away – it’s not intentional.

The first thing that hit my with True Detective was the startling transformation of both Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. People talk, to the point of Oscar success, for McConaughey’s transformation in Dallas Buyers Club, but to be honest the ageing process and transformation of the lead characters throughout is even more spectacular, however much digital post production tricky is involved, you can’t help but question whether you’re either looking at the same people, or if this has been filmed over a stunningly impressive timeline.

True Detective Ageing

However impressive its ability to portray time is, True Detective is totally ruined by it’s pacing and over reliance on dialogue. They’ve completely forgotten the old adage that “a picture tells a thousand words” and instead have decided to write two. They talk, and they talk, and they talk some more. There are even times when they talk to each other to simply explain the actions they are doing – “I am sitting at a computer, typing on a keyboard”. We can see that. You don’t need to tell us. But that’s not the biggest problem with the dialogue. The biggest problem is that writer Nic Pizzolatto, must have been given a full copy of the Oxford English Dictionary for Christmas, as everything is explained in the most complicated and overly defined fashion possible. A keyboard wouldn’t be a keyboard, it’d be a “multi buttoned user interface device” and while a hyper real description and tone can be a good thing, when it’s constant, as it is in this, it serves to detract and confuse more than enforce.

And because it’s so descriptive and narrative, and because it’s about a story being retold rather than portrayed you have to concentrate. This isn’t a stick it on, pass the time, dip in and out series. You have to switch everything off, put the smart phone in another room and give yourself totally to it. You have to watch every minute, every second, because blink and you will miss it. And that’s if you can understand the deep Southern accents and low mumbling. Ian who is responsible for me watching it in the first place even took to watching with subtitles to try and alleviate this issue!

And that brings into view the major issue this dialogue heavy, overly descriptive and concentration demanding series has. It’s pacing. Because they talk, in a monotonous tone and a monotonous speed everything just feels metronomic. It just goes tick, tick, tick, tick, tick. And that makes it hard to concentrate. It’s totally counter intuitive but you have a programme in which everything happens so slowly that it almost makes it impossible to stay engrossed but if you look away for a second, if you allow your concentration to break, you will most likely miss something. It’s an impressive situation to manage to create.

But I think I have a reason why. For me, it’s because as a series it’s actually not very good. It reminds me a lot of Series 2 and 3 of The Wire. Essentially nothing ever really happens. Episodes come and go and while there are underlying themes and principles and you can tell it’s all heading in one direction towards one final idea, for me you could remove any of the first 6 episodes and you wouldn’t actually lose anything from the final outcome.

Now I know that it’s complete contradictory to my “blink and you miss it” argument, but it’s a case of having seen it all, and being able to analyse it on an episode by episode versus the final picture basis, the way it ends, the direction it goes in the final two episodes mean that the previous six almost feel redundant. It’s not a twist, as everything ties together but it ends with more questions than answers in relation to how everything they’ve gone through, the setup, fits into the outcome. It ends leaving a taste of over reliance on its main characters, rather than following up on the reasons for the back story, the reoccurring characters, that have padded out so much of the series and demanded so much of your attention. You almost feels cheated because you’ve given so much to ensuring you don’t miss anything as it plods along that when it bids you good bye you wonder if it was all worthwhile.

For me though, episode 7 is by far the best episode, and while the season finale follows slightly in the vein of the predecessor, it’s not close to the standards it reached. I really am not sure whether, when Season 2 arrives I’ll bother watching it, especially as McConaughey has said he won’t be returning, because I’m not sure where you can take the story now. I know that, as it seems is becoming “the norm” recently for me, I am once again going against the grain of media and public opinion but, I just don’t get the hype and praise True Detective is garnished with. It took far too long to get going, to really grab me and draw me in, and when it finally did, it started to get light headed and sat back down after just over one episode.

7 out of 10 stars (7 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Television First Edition

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