TV Series Review: True Detective

by Steve Lancaster8/26/17
True Detective is available on Amazon or as part of your HBO subscription.  •  True Detective should be much better than it is. I had previously avoided watching this 2-season series. In part, because I dislike Woody Harrelson as an actor. I find him one-dimensional and stiff. In that regard True Detective, was a minor surprise. Harrelson is not as wooden and stiff as in other movies; like No Country for Old Men, Planet of the Apes, and the Hunger Games, to mention a few.

McConaughey, on the other hand, almost always develops a complex character, struggling with his own demons and not always winning. He has made better movies; Interstellar, Dallas Buyer’s Club and Lincoln Lawyer come to mind. The primary writer is Nic Pizzolatto a Louisiana native with credits for the Magnificent 7, crime novels and short stories. My deciding factor was Pizzolatto had taught literature at the University of Arkansas. And, a well written crime story is hard for me to resist.

However, it was mixed feelings that I started True Detective. The first episode and others following until about half way though are composed of flashbacks and flash forwards, at first it is a little fragmented. The flashbacks cover a time period of about 20 years. From the time Detective Rust Cohle (McConaughey) and Detective Marty Hart (Harrelson) are pared as partners to their current endeavors as private citizens. Cohle is a part-time bartender and working alcoholic and Hart is a PI.

Cohle and Hart are interviewed in the current time about a previous case they had worked on and thought to have solved involving cult-like serial murders in the low country around Baton Rouge LA. As the story develops we learn that Cohle had been an undercover narcotics agent in Texas and was hired by Louisiana State Police when his cover was blown. He is presented as the cerebral part of the partnership, called the “accountant” by other detectives because he is so straight. One suspects that the rigidness of Cohle is the after effect of PTSD. Hart is much more gregarious and well respected by his fellow detectives and superiors.

The case involves the murder of a woman. The woman has been tied to a tree in a cane field in ritual fashion, kneeling with symbols drawn on her naked body and antlers tied to her head. Even for Louisiana this is considered a bit odd. The investigation, still involving flashbacks and flash forwards, takes the detectives to the fringes of Cajun and rural culture. We’re not talking the good old boys of Swamp People, alligator hunters like Troy Landry. But the hardened people who never leave the swamp and are not friendly to anyone from off.

The case also has leads to some of the political and social elite of Louisiana, however, that part of the investigation seems to be going nowhere. As the middle episodes expand the investigation focuses is on a previously convicted criminal and relative of a local sheriff. As the story progresses the detectives develop a case and attempt to arrest the perp. That effort has consequences, they find children hidden in a barn. Hart is so outraged at how the children have been abused and readied for sacrifice that he executes the perp when Cohle has him handcuffed.

The detectives, cover the murder by staging an elaborate shoot-out in which the perp is killed. Their reports are similar enough and the perp nauseating enough to close the case. The last part of the series deals with current day, no more flashbacks.

As the police interviews end for Hart and Cohle, both realize that there are strings to this case that they did not pursue. They partner up, this time under Hart’s license as a PI. They again follow leads that travel to the upper crust of political and business in Louisiana. They find a perp, with ties to this upper crust and ties to the crimes. Both men are wounded bringing the perp to the law and the perp dies in the resulting shoot out, this time justified. However, we are left with the feeling that much more could be investigated, but won’t.

On the plus side both detective’s characters are developed and altered by the events of this story. Hart becomes more analectic and less emotional Cohle retreats into a bottle, showing more symptoms of PTSD. That they can team up in the present day is remarkable and demonstrates some excellent writing. On the minus side. Well, it’s always the rich and powerful that get away with it, isn’t it? However, it was overall a good crime story, well written and acted.

The second season changes the location to LA in the present day with Rachel McAdams and Colin Farrell. Harrelson and McConaughey are listed as producers. I watched 3 episodes just to get a feel. In a word, terrible. It is a waste of photons on your 48” big screen. • (428 views)

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10 Responses to TV Series Review: True Detective

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I found “True Crime” on Netflix. But I didn’t find “True Detective,” nor could I find that on Amazon Prime. I guess the next best thing to watching a Woody Harrelson/Matthew McConaughey series is to stick my nose in the way of the whirling metal blades of an old General Electric fan.

    My distaste for Harrelson should be obvious. I try not to let politics ruin the performance, but it doesn’t help that Harrelson, outside of his one role in Cheers, isn’t much of an actor. But he’s a heck of an activist.

    Many people had warm-fuzzies for Matthew McConaughey because he starred in a few manly movies such as “Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation” and “Sahara.” But it’s sort of like seeing your mother naked. My vision of him was forever ruined in the cringe-worthy PC movie, “Dallas Buyers Club.” It may be crude of Trump to mention things such as penis size, but Matthews shrunk to nothing after that movie. He’s been a PC weenie ever since.

    Still, if I can separate my distaste for the actors from their performances I might give this a go if it ever comes to Netflix.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Steve, I found another use for Matthew McConaughey. The movie is Gold. McConaughey plays a prospector. Fat, slightly drunken, balding, uncouth, and with a sense of family honor that is somewhat destructive, he teams up with wunderkind surveyor Michael Acosta to search for riches in Indonesia.

    The story is highly plot-based with several twists and turns. There’s little more I can say about it without ruining it. But it’s based on a true story (one I had never heard of and probably many haven’t). From what I’ve read online about the true story, the movies seems to follow in the main.

    They’ve done a good job making McConaughey a repulsive sort of character. And the only thing I can say about the overall plot is that they’ve kinda-sorta made this a little-guy vs. the big, bad bankers. From what I’ve read, this is just a libtard fiction.

    Although this movie isn’t heart-pounding drama it is fairly well done and tight for what it is. It’s currently available for streaming on Netflix.

    • Steve Lancaster says:

      Brad, a big plus for Arkansas. The movie was filmed in the delta region of Arkansas.

      I just learned the other day that True Detective will return for a 3rd season and will be filmed in NW Arkansas. It seems that Harrelson and McConaughey will still be producing. I do hope that after the disaster of the second season they have learned some lessons.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        It may be a while until I get to True Detective. I likely needs to come to Netflix before I get to it.

        Meanwhile I’ve been watching season 4 of Silicon Valley. Very little effort is being made at originality. Some of the schtick still works but this is a series that desperately needs to expand beyond its one-trick pony.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I just watched episode one of season one of Mercy Street. It looks promising. I found it streaming on Amazon Prime.

    I don’t know if there was a Yankee hospital during the war where people acted like this. It seems a touch over-romanticized (which is not to say there isn’t death and blood). And it’s obvious that modern attitudes have seeped in and you’re getting some dialogue that probably never happened but is meant to make a point. But it’s not as obnoxious as most attempts and it’s certainly plausible in this setting.

    However, this is supposedly based upon real events, so who knows? The summary at IMDB says: “Follows the lives of two volunteer nurses on opposing sides of the Civil War – New England abolitionist Mary Phinney and Confederate supporter Emma Green.”

    I can certainly see a short shelf life to this series with that premise which could get old. But, that said, the first episode was very watchable. It was intelligent and well-acted. The first episode, at least, centers around Union-occupied Alexandria. A Southern hotel has been requisitioned for a Yankee hospital, so you do have this interesting mix of Northerners and Southerners. At one point, the daughter of the Southerner who owns the hotel is floating around the hospital in full dress, quite in juxtaposition to what is going on all around her.

    Given the attitude of the head doctor, it’s sort of like M.A.S.H. set in Virginia. He doesn’t care what side one is on. They all bleed the same color, etc. He’s had to scold one of his nurses more than once in regards to her hands-off approach to Rebel patients.

    But that’s not to say that the doctor is a somewhat self-righteous flake as was Alan Alda. He seems a little darker and more complicated than that. And this certainly is no comedy. But offhand I can’t see where it has much room to go without droning on about the same subjects and beating a dead horse. But we’ll see. I’ll try to catch episode 2 tonight.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Interestingly, one of the first Union casualties of the war was a lieutenant of New York zouaves named Ellsworth, who pulled down the Confederate flag on a hotel and was promptly killed by the proprietor, who didn’t live much longer. I wonder if this is supposed to be the same hotel.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        If I watch far along enough, and that happens, I’ll let you know.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          It would be part of the backstory. It happened on the first day of the Union occupation of Alexandria (May 24, 1861).

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            I’ll not that, although I think I’ll probably bail out of this series pretty soon. It’s very very conventional in terms of the treatment of the material.

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