TV Series Review
There is a darkness out there—a cold, hard, crushing blackness that crawls and gasps in society's cobwebbed corners. It may appear in the flickering shadows of the Louisiana bayou or on the sundrenched streets of Los Angeles. And when that darkness is almost too bleak to be imagined, you can be sure that True Detective has already shaped a season around it, bringing it right into your living room.
True Detective's first-season tagline was "Man is the cruelest animal." And the series may be television's cruelest show.
The HBO program, which features Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey in its first season, and Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn in its second, is a brooding work of prickly horror. Its title stems from the pulp crime fiction of the early 20th century, particularly the periodical True Detective. (Which is what drives the show's new plot and new characters each season.)
Season One centers around a murky cult involved in the sacrifice of young women and children on the Louisiana bayou. Women and children disappear, leaving jagged stick sculptures behind. Lives are ruined, souls are devoured. And to make it stop, Detectives Rust Cohle and Marty Hart walk to the edge of sanity and beyond.
While Season Two seems less sensational, it's no less brutal: Ben Caspere, the fictional city manager for the town of Vinci, Calif., is found murdered by the side of the highway, prompting investigators from three separate law enforcement agencies (Vinci detective Ray Velcoro, Ventura County detective Ani Bezzerides and highway patrol officer Paul Woodrugh) to join forces to find the killer.
The first season earned plenty of critical accolades. The second has not been so well received, but it still has all the earmarks of modern prestige television: intricate writing, solid acting, dancing and diving storylines and, of course, deeply problematic content.
True Detective is as violent and profane as any show on television. If its characters aren't hopping into bed with someone, they're likely shooting or beating someone. The f-word flies as frequently as the gore. As well-constructed as this series may be, it's hard to believe that any narrative payoff could be worth such a twisted and terrible ride.
In an episode from Season One, Marty tells Rust why he left the police force. During a case, he discovered that a disturbed mother had tried to dry off her infant in a microwave oven. We watch as he opens the oven and stares, aghast. Sick.
"I didn't want to look at anything like that anymore," he says.
We might well say the same thing.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
(Season One) Matthew McConaughey as Rust Cohle; Woody Harrelson as Marty Hart; Michelle Monaghan as Maggie Hart; Michael Potts as Maynard Gilbough; Tory Kittles as Thomas Papania
(Season Two) Colin Farrell as Det. Ray Velcoro; Rachel McAdams as Det. Ani Bezzerides; Taylor Kitsch as Paul Woodrugh; Vince Vaughn as Frank Semyon; Kelly Reilly as Jordan Semyon
Paul Asay Paul Asay