×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

TV Review: ‘True Detective’

Beyond the McConaughey-Harrelson pairing, HBO cop drama offers an intoxicating, multi-layered mystery

With:

Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Potts, Tory Kittles, Kevin Dunn

At first blush, “True Detective” looks like another brooding cable cop drama, distinguished primarily by the undeniable casting coup of pairing a suddenly red-hot Matthew McConaughey (and who saw that one coming?) and Woody Harrelson. It doesn’t take long, though, for this hypnotic series to begin assuming a life of its own, wrapped in a multipronged mystery and featuring one of more unconventional protagonists to walk the beat in a while. Rich and absorbing, this eight-part drama quickly vaults into elite company, offering a singular voice that’s unlike almost anything else on TV.

That would come from writer Nic Pizzolatto and director Cary Joji Fukunaga, who collaborated on all the episodes. They have woven a story that leaps between 2012 and 1995, but the narrative is actually denser than that, delicately dropping references to past events before we see them unfolding.

Harrelson’s Det. Martin Hart, a family man with issues, and McConaughey’s Rust Cohle — an enigmatic figure, brilliant but prone to visions, nihilistic thoughts and a haunted stare — have been partners for three months when we meet them in 1995. But the story opens with the two being interviewed by detectives (Michael Potts, Tory Kittles) in 2012, a decade after their acrimonious split for reasons unknown.

Ostensibly, the two present-day detectives are probing a grisly, ritualistic murder that Hart and Cohle investigated, and presumably solved, nearly 20 years ago. Yet questions of what happened then are augmented by two other riddles: what eventually drove the mismatched duo apart; and why the cops are so interested in the details of this old case, and how it might relate to a new killing.

It doesn’t help that Hart’s elder version is puffed out and retired from the force, while Cohle’s now sports a wild hairdo and demands a six-pack of beer (nothing fancy, please) before he’ll finish the interview because, well, it’s past noon, and Thursdays, that’s when he starts getting his load on.

Although there are some fine players on the periphery — including Michelle Monaghan as Hart’s wife and Kevin Dunn as their boss — this largely plays as a two-character piece, and Harrelson and McConaughey are both at their best. (Given the number of eccentrics the former has played, it’s also interesting to think about how the show would look if the roles were reversed, since either guy would be almost equally well suited to the other’s part.)

Shot in Louisiana and oozing atmosphere, the show moves slowly, but there’s seldom a wasted scene or moment. And as well-trodden as the cop drama is on TV, the hopscotching timeline and casting have managed to make the whole exercise feel fresh, or at least put a distinct premium-TV stamp on it.

In some respects, “True Detective” approximates the feel of some of the best short-order British crime dramas, albeit with a distinctly American twang. And whether the series can maintain the quality of its initial flurry of episodes, so far, anyway, its aim is certainly true.

TV Review: 'True Detective'

(Series; HBO, Sun. Jan. 12, 9 p.m.)

Production:

Filmed in Louisiana by HBO.

Crew:

Executive producers, Nic Pizzolatto, Cary Joji Fukunaga, Scott Stephens, Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, Richard Brown, Steve Golin; director, Fukunaga; writer, Pizzolatto; camera, Adam Arkapaw; production designer, Alex DiGerlando; editors, Alex Hall, Affonso Goncalves; music, T Bone Burnett; casting, Meagan Lewis, Alexa L. Fogel. 60 MIN.

Cast:

Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Potts, Tory Kittles, Kevin Dunn

More TV

  • NBC's California O&Os to Launch 'California

    NBC's California O&Os to Launch 'California Live' Daily Daytime Series

    NBC’s three California O&Os are set to launch a live daily lifestyle series dubbed “California Live.” The series will air at 11:30 a.m. Monday through Friday across KNBC-TV Los Angeles, KNTV-TV San Francisco and KNSD San Diego. The show will have some modular segments that will be customized for each market, with an emphasis on [...]

  • TV Roundup: Netflix Sets 'Tidying Up

    TV News Roundup: Steven Yeun Joins 'Twilight Zone' at CBS All Access

    In Wednesday’s roundup, Netflix reveals the premiere date for “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo,” and Steven Yeun joins Jordan Peele’s “Twilight Zone” reboot. FIRST LOOKS  Variety has an exclusive behind-the-scenes first look at Season 2 of Showtime’s “SMILF,” featuring creator and star, Frankie Shaw. The new season, which premieres Sunday, Jan. 20 at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT, finds Bridgette trying to move [...]

  • Charlie Rose Sexual Harassment

    CBS News Settles Suit Alleging Harassment by Charlie Rose

    CBS News settled a lawsuit filed by three women who alleged they were harassed by former “CBS This Morning” co-anchor Charlie Rose, and claimed CBS did not act despite being aware of the situation. The amount awarded to the women was not disclosed at their request, according to a CBS News spokesperson. “The matter has [...]

  • 'Liga' Kicks Off At Ventana Sur's

    Ventana Sur: 'La Liga' Kicks Off at Buenos Aires' Animation!

    Spain’s Quirino Awards, Argentina’s Animation! and Mexico’s Pixelatl Festival, three key events in Ibero-American animation, will join forces to create La Liga (The League), as announced Wednesday at an Animation! round table hosted by the Quirino Awards, titled “Iberoamerican Alliance Models.” Speakers included Quirino Awards promoter José Luis Farias, Mexico’s Pixelatl director José Iñesta, Gonzalo [...]

  • Netflix - Marvel's The Defenders

    Don't Expect 'The Defenders' on Disney Streaming Service Any Time Soon (EXCLUSIVE)

    Fans of the Marvel Television series recently canceled by Netflix who hope to see the shows revived on Disney+ may be out of luck. Sources tell Variety that the deal for the original four Marvel shows includes a clause that prevents the characters from appearing in any non-Netflix series or film for at least two years after [...]

  • One Dollar CBS All Access

    'One Dollar' Canceled by CBS All Access After One Season

    “One Dollar” has the ignominious distinction of being the first CBS All Access original series to be canceled. Variety has confirmed that the streaming service will not be bringing the drama series back for a second season. The series was set in a small rust belt town in post-recession America, where a one-dollar bill changing [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content