TV Review: ‘True Detective,’ Season 2

Vince Vaughn True Detective Season 2

Those expecting anything approaching the magic conjured by the original Matthew McConaughey-Woody Harrelson pairing should immediately temper their enthusiasm for “True Detective’s” second season. Impeccably cast around its marquee stars, the new plot possesses the requisite noir-ish qualities, but feels like a by-the-numbers potboiler, punctuated by swooping aerial shots of L.A. courtesy of new director Justin Lin, whose intense close-ups bring to mind a Sergio Leone western. Although generally watchable, the inspiration that turned the first into an obsession for many seems to have drained out of writer Nic Pizzolatto’s prose, at least three hours into this eight-episode run.

Somehow, the first installment managed to take TV’s most venerable genre and put a fresh coat of paint on it, thanks to the intoxicating mix of McConaughey’s unorthodox, philosophizing cop, its grisly crime and the time-bending narrative. Here, Pizzolatto more straightforwardly plows ahead, featuring four disparate characters whose paths begin to intersect only near the end of the first hour.

The quartet features three cops and one criminal, the last played by Vince Vaughn, whose character, Frank Semyon, is desperately pursuing a land deal that will allow him to go legit. Still, a complication, in the form of a dead body, threatens to derail those plans, while creating an awkward alliance among a boozing detective (Colin Farrell, somewhat playing against type), a brooding highway-patrol motorcycle cop (Taylor Kitsch) and a sheriff’s detective (Rachel McAdams), each of whom sports a constipated look indicative of a painful past, a personal secret, a bad attitude or some combination of all three.

There’s a bit of happenstance in what unites them, which helps explain why the premiere requires considerable patience. Indeed, if ever a high-profile series called for a binge model to get past the producers’ decision to slowly tease out plot, this would be the poster child.

Once the ball gets rolling, though, the new “Detective” feels increasingly mundane — in tone and style, a bit like a lesser Michael Mann movie stretched out in episodic form. Part of that might have to do with the necessity of serving the multiple leads, at the expense of the focus on two that the first enjoyed. While this all might converge in a way that knocks your socks off, there’s marginal evidence of things really heating up until after July 4.

In the process, Pizzolatto — whose directing partner on the first, Cary Fukunaga, has taken his distinctive vision and moved on — delivers a hard-boiled but cliched view of L.A., framed by overhead views of tentacle-like freeways and ugly power plants. The cops’ journeys yield encounters with scheming actresses, ghoulish clinics for the rich, underground clubs and hippy-dippy spiritual retreats, set against a backdrop of money and corruption.

None of the shortcomings are necessarily the fault of the stars, who are saddled with a heaviness and gloom that pervades the entire production. As noted, there are first-rate actors down to the fringes — James Frain, W. Earl Brown, Lolita Davidovich, Abigail Spencer, David Morse and Kelly Reilly as Frank’s wife among them — reflecting all the trappings of a prestige project, even if what emerges doesn’t initially scale those heights.

Vaughn has the juiciest role out of the gate as the cornered crook, but as with everything else, his distinctive speech pattern feels pallid compared with McConaughey’s monologues, developed before anyone thought to try selling cars with them.

Having seen this much, there’s certainly a sense of curiosity regarding where the story ends up, and a relatively short commitment to reach the finish line. And expecting Pizzolatto to catch lightning in a bottle again, starting from scratch with a new directing team and cast, was perhaps simply too much to ask.

For HBO, the anticipation the first go-round engendered qualifies as a high-class problem. Although the gap between seasons one and two isn’t severe enough to merit the sort of angst in which these characters are mired, “True” fans might still come away feeling let down, if not downright blue.

TV Review: 'True Detective,' Season 2

(Series; HBO, Sun. June 21, 9 p.m.)


Filmed in Los Angeles by Neon Black Prods.


Executive producers, Nic Pizzolatto, Steve Golin, Scott Stephens; producer, Aida Rodgers; director, Justin Lin; writer, Pizzolatto; camera, Nigel Bluck; production designer, Alex DiGerlando; casting, Junie Lowry-Johnson, Libby Goldstein. 60 MIN.


Colin Farrell, Vince Vaughn, Rachel McAdams, Taylor Kitsch, Kelly Reilly, Christopher James Baker, Afemo Omilami, Chris Kerson, James Frain, Lolita Davidovich, W. Early Brown, David Morse

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  1. People who don’t understand as easily the character study and themes of Season 2 as they did with Season one (although i believe the issue is deeper rooted to the fact that they just liked woody and mcconaughey as more as personable actors rather than actually liking crime movies such directors as michael mann, walter hill, or david lynch), one should read the amazing article “The Hidden Meaning of True Detective Season 2,” by Jay Dyer for a more eye opening in depth discussion on what the story in its completion really meant.

    If after reading that, you still think True Detective Season 2 sucks, you’re not really a fan of the show, you’re just a fan of macconaughey and harrelson, because this article proves just how similar both seasons truly are. (Just in different ways.)

  2. Glenna B says:

    I just finished watching the last episode (I don’t give up on things!) and I truly enjoyed the series!! I have issues with people who bail out on a show that had such a good premise and good actors! True Detective is an appropriate name for this series, these are true, very flawed people! As I would imagine cops, and criminals would be apt to be. The episodes got more exciting as they progressed, you naysayers should have hung in there!! Good job HBO… Can’t wait for the next series!

  3. I cannot believe how bad this show is. I’ve decided to bail out after episode three. It’s not that I won’t give a show a fair chance, because I didn’t are much for Recify until episode three…but my gut tells me that the horrid writing and stilted acting won’t get any better. I could be wrong, but…

  4. if6ws929 says:

    How can you accurately review the show before the season has finished?

  5. Francine Simonetta says:

    Too bad …. I coud care less about this season despite the good cast….

  6. buffalobilly says:

    got thru part 2. sophomoric/boring. colin is good and kitsch also. mcadams and vaughn sleepwalking. ponderously bad. does not deserve to have the name True Detective on it,

  7. Ernesto Crusising says:

    Hey ‘writer’, you bag a show and your copy contains this: ‘By the numbers; fresh coat of paint; grisly crime; time-bending; ploughs ahead; intoxicating mix; go legit; threatens to derail; tease out plot; poster child; ball gets rolling; knocks your socks off; really heating up; hard-boiled but cliched view of LA; a bit like a lesser Michael Mann movie stretched out in episodic form (wanker); hippy-dippy spiritual retreats; Vaughn has the juiciest role out of the gate; saddled with a heaviness and gloom; and concluded with: ‘… these characters are mired, “True” fans might still come away feeling let down, if not downright blue.’ And how about the lazy adverbs?

  8. paulinnium says:

    For me it just takes itself WAYYYY too seriously. There is absolutely no humor in it. For as gruesome the murder and how messed up the protagonists of season 1 were, they still left room for humor which made the characters seem like actual human beings.

    Again, I’ve only seen the first episode tonight so there’s still hope, but man, if all there is gonna be are one-liners like “Everybody gets touched.” I’m in for a long season.

  9. Season 2 of True Detective finds the series comfortable with being good instead of desperate to be great. If you cant watch the live streams due to geo restricted content in your Country then used PureVPN.

  10. Guest says:

    What about lack of racial diversity for something set in LA

  11. jay says:

    this is exactly what i expected, lightning wasn’t gonna strike twice. im sure it will be good, it just wont be as riveting as the first one.

    • Ger Kennelly says:

      tv shows should stop while they’re ahead
      Fawlty Towers
      My So Called Life

      • Jim & Amanda says:

        Anxiously awaiting season 2 of TD, but didn’t expect it to be as good as season 1. New Orleans and Louisiana as a region are a character unto their own!!! LA has it’s own flavor but the allure of voodoo, black magic etc does not come to mind. I also struggle to see Vince Vaughn playing a detective like Woody or Matthew M. but ready, willing and hopeful that we’ll be proven WRONG!!

  12. Irvin says:

    I’m one of those few who was not impressed by Season 1. The actual overarching serial murderer plot was slow as molasses, just pedestrian and predictable. The only thing that stood out about that season was the character development and performances by McConaughey, Harrelson, and Monaghan.

    But I’m still willing to give this season another chance, on account of Colin Farrell.

    • Wayne klein says:

      I agree that the first season of True Detective was underwhelming it was an ordinary show wrapped in bright, colorful wrapping–a meta noir show that was more about technique than storytelling

  13. Cena Gomez says:

    I wasn’t too impressed with season 1 of True Detective. So, I have fresh eyes going into season 2. I found that season 1 with Matt McConaughey slow drag of the dialogue annoying at times.

  14. Fred Goss says:

    Please stop letting Brian Lowry review television. It’s like asking a vegetarian what they think about meat lover’s pizza. He must hate TV. I’ve never read a positive review that he’s written. The only thing he obviously loves is his indulgent writing style.

    • KD. says:

      The problem you describe is endemic to Variety, in my humble opinion. Over time, being a demagogue who bobs and weaves in their writing for fans of their killer style, than encourage conversation and provoke thought. Engaging with the different media has become diminishing returns. It’s just shoving pre-determined tastes injudiciously down readers’ throats.

    • I enjoy Brian Lowry’s reviews.
      His assessment of TV series often coincides perfectly with mine.

  15. L.Lea says:

    Sounds like the reviewer has a man crush on McConaughey. Which though understandable, doesn’t really give those of us who don’t much of a realistic review on this. I’ll make my own decision on this one.

    • Alley says:

      What’s wrong with a mancrush on McConaughey? It’s completely understandable.

      Funny thing, the reviews in Variety and Hollywood Reporter are negative and all the others coming out from the major reviewers have so far been positive, even a couple of raves.

  16. Mr Furious says:

    So, what movies and books is Nick Stealsalotto ripping off from this time?

  17. Will says:

    He said this review was based on three episodes

  18. Steven Bissell says:

    Is this review of the entire season based on the first episode? I know critics are really in love their voice and opinion, but isn’t that a bit egomaniacal? What if everything he says turns out to be wrong? Will he retract this column? Doubt it.

    • Dan Ivers says:

      The very first paragraph would seem to indicate the author made it “…at least three hours into this eight-episode run”.

      Will you now retract your comment? Doubt it.

  19. Daryle says:

    It sounds like the reviewer hasn’t COMPLETELY passed judgment on this yet, and that’s good. I do agree that all these folks have a hugely tough act to follow. Having seen a couple of the trailers, I wonder if the directors/writers/camera folks didn’t take a little something from the FX(?) series, “The Bridge,” which, to me, was really, really dark and a bit sleazy-seeming. Sometimes you felt like you needed a shower after an hour of that, if you know what I mean…but I did like that show, nevertheless. Hopefully, that will be the case with the second season of True Detective, as well.

    • Eivind says:

      You should definetly see the original ”Broen – Bron”, together with True Detective, it’s one of the best noir-feel series so I’ve seen. Hopefully, season 2 of True Detective will go the same way as ”Broen”, where season 2 starts seemingly dull, but suddenly turns around to a nail-biting ending.

  20. TONY says:

    Lets give it a shot.
    See what happens…critics suck anyway.

    • if6ws929 says:

      They suck in multiples when they give us a review without watching the whole series first!

      • uygugyugy says:

        comming from watching both seasons…first season slow but good….second not so slow but ….NOBODY TALKS LIKE THAT…. like they are reading word from word some sh!tty crime drama book in the bargain bin written by one person and it shows. That being said not completely unwatchable. Would be the best show on nbc or abc.

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