×

TV Review: ‘True Detective,’ Season 2

With:
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

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.)

Production: Filmed in Los Angeles by Neon Black Prods.

Crew: 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.

Cast: 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

More TV

  • SAG-AFTRA HQ

    SAG-AFTRA Ends Long Strike Against Ad Agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty

    SAG-AFTRA has ended its 10-month strike against Bartle Bogle Hegarty after the advertising agency agreed to sign the union’s new commercials contract. The union instructed its 160,000 members in September not to accept any work for BBH, which had been signed to SAG-AFTRA’s commercials contracts since 1999. The strike came two weeks after BBH publicly [...]

  • Brazilian President Jair Bolosnaro attends the

    Bolsonaro Threatens Brazil’s Central Film Fund with Censorship or Closure

    In typical shoot-from-the-hip remarks, Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro has declared that Ancine, Brazil’s powerful state-backed federal film agency, should accept “filters”or face closure. “If it can’t have a filter, we’ll close Ancine, or privatize it,” Bolsonaro added, attacking Ancine, which plows some $300 million a year into Brazil’s film and TV industries, for supporting [...]

  • Variety Cord Cutting Placeholder Cable

    CBS Stations Go Dark on AT&T's DirecTV, U-verse Platforms Amid Contract Battle

    CBS’ 28 O&O stations are going dark for about 6.6 million subscribers of AT&T’s DirecTV and U-verse platforms as the Eye and AT&T battle over a new retransmission consent contract. The blackout affects CBS and CW-affiliated stations in 14 major markets including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Also off the air are the CBS [...]

  • Orlando Bloom Comic Con Immigrant San

    Orlando Bloom Claims San Diego Mayor Ran From Comic-Con Exhibit Featuring Immigrant Characters

    Did an immigration storyline cause Republican San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer to run out of Amazon Prime Video’s Comic-Con activation this week? According to “Carnival Row” star Orlando Bloom, that’s exactly what happened. At Amazon’s “Carnival Row” panel, Bloom told the audience that Faulconer stopped by the Prime Video activation and chose the “Carnival Row” [...]

  • 'Game of Thrones' Cast Calls Final

    'Game of Thrones' Cast Calls Final Season Backlash 'Media-Led Hate Campaign'

    What is life like now after “Game of Thrones?” That’s the question that fans have been asking themselves and that cast members had to answer at the show’s final Comic-Con panel. But first, Conleth Hill, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and several others cleared the air and addressed the perceived negative response to the final season. “I don’t [...]

  • SDCC Roundup: AMC Drops 'The Walking

    SDCC TV News Roundup: AMC Releases 'The Walking Dead' Season 10 Trailer (Watch)

    San Diego Comic-Con has become a hotbed of entertainment news in recent years, especially for the television industry. In today’s SDCC TV news roundup, AMC dropped a trailer for the 10th season of “The Walking Dead” and FX released a first look at “Mayans MC” Season 2. FIRST LOOKS AMC debuted the trailer for Season [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content