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True Detective - Season 1 
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All eight episodes of the critically-acclaimed US television series starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. The series follows two Louisiana homicide detectives, Rustin 'Rust' Cohle (McConaughey) and Martin 'Marty' Hart (Harrelson), as they hunt for a serial killer over a 17-year period. The episodes are: 'The Long Bright Dark', 'Seeing Things', 'The Locked Room', 'Who Goes There', 'The Secret Fate of All Life', 'Haunted Houses', 'After You've Gone' and 'Form and Void'.
In 2012, Louisiana State Police Detectives Rust Cohle and Martin Hart are brought in to revisit a homicide case they worked in 1995. As the inquiry unfolds in present day through separate interrogations, the two former detectives narrate the story of their investigation, reopening unhealed wounds, and drawing into question their supposed solving of a bizarre ritualistic murder in 1995. The timelines braid and converge in 2012 as each man is pulled back into a world they believed they'd left behind. In learning about each other and their killer, it becomes clear that darkness lives on both sides of the law. Written and created by Nic Pizzolatto ('The Killing') and directed by Cary Fukunaga ('Sin Nombre,' 'Jane Eyre'), 'True Detective' stars Woody Harrelson as Martin Hart and Matthew McConaughey as Rust Cohle. The series also stars Michelle Monaghan (ŒMission: Impossible III') as Maggie, Hart's wife; Kevin Dunn ('Veep') as Major Quesada, the supervising officer in 1995; and Tory Kittles ('Sons of Anarchy') and Michael Potts ('The Wire') as Dets. Papania and Gilbough, the investigators now probing Hart and Cohle for answers.
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True Detective, it will come as no surprise, is a detective story about a murder investigation with occult overtones. The story is told in a dual narrative, with the events unfolding at the time of the crime in Louisiana in 1995, while in parallel, the case is being reinvestigated by two new detectives in 2012. These parallel storylines are masterfully handled: at no time is the viewer confused as to which time period they are watching and the ageing of the actors is incredibly well-handled, through effective but not excessive makeup effects.
So the story itself is engaging but what really elevates True Detective, is the quality of the writing and the acting - like so much of the new golden age of long-form drama that started with The West Wing and HBO's prison drama Oz in the mid 1990s, it is not really what happens but how it happens that impresses. The standard of acting is just fantastic, with even the smallest character seeming a fully realised, rounded, individual and lead characters Matthew McConaughey (building on his recent, fantastic body of work in films like Interstellar) and Woody Harrelson (his best work since Natural Born Killers) deliver career-best performances: selfless, unshowy, detailed and wholly believable.
True Detective was created and written by Nic Pizzolatto and his writing, here, is so rich and full of character, with the intellectual sparring between the two detectives being dramatic, credible, sometimes funny, sometimes intense. Again, minor characters are also fully-realised and given room to live and breathe.
Occasionally, a book, film or television series comes along that reinvents the genre. I wasn't sure that was possible with police dramas after the studious brilliance of the police procedural, The Wire, which analysed the War on Drugs as seen through the eyes of its soldiers, generals and politicians (and later it's educators and media) on both sides. In just eight brilliant episodes, Nic Pizzolatto and cast and crew have taken a decades-old genre and turned it on its head, opening up and exposing a whole other world of previously untapped possibilities. Unreservedly recommended.
True Detective (Season 1) is gritty, murky and deliberately slow. It isn't full of bodies or violence like most detective shows, preferring the slow reveal - you don't even see a suspect until episode 3 or 4, and then all is not as simple as it seems. The truth feels overwhelmingly remote and hidden, and you follow the detectives' attempts to get closer to the killer with sympathy and frustration. There is no per-episode resolution or conclusion, and the detectives seem disempowered and stonewalled throughout. Some will find that tedious. But it's really the show's biggest strength, because it makes the challenge of their job more convincing and their successes all the more thrilling. At critical points when a connection was made or a clue found, I felt genuinely excited and fearful in a way that I never have watching episodic detective shows.
There are occasional graphic and upsetting moments and some really bleak ideas at work, so it's also not for the easily disturbed. It's shot through with dry humour and bitter, nihilistic ruminations from the main characters as they trudge from one dead neighbourhood to the next, trying to extract help from an impoverished and broken community. The whole show has a studious obsession with darkness, madness and isolation, which the setting (post-hurricane backwater Louisiana) serves wonderfully. But it also pays tenderly close attention to the characters' feelings and their personal lives, side characters included - a soft touch often missing, again, from other detective shows. All of the people introduced feel real and unique, and I can still remember most of them. In the end, it's the characters, not the crimes, which provide the most interesting moments.
Needless to say, the acting is impeccable throughout. Matthew McConaughey was a vaguely recognised rom-com entity before this, which makes his game-changing, hypnotic performance all the more surprising. Some of his character's discursive moments are so interesting and well-acted I had to go back and watch them several more times. The season, in its entirety, follows the characters over a period of years, and the ageing and changing attitudes and demeanours are handled masterfully by McConaughey and Harrelson. Both received Golden Globe nominations for Best Actor. Reading about McConaughey's personal life (which I recommend doing only after you've finished the show) makes his performance here nothing short of miraculous, given how diametrically opposite he is to this character. I have enormous respect for him for working so hard to give life and depth to a character so completely unlike himself.
I always come back to Silence of the Lambs when trying to recommend this show to people. It has more in common with that film than perhaps anything else: it focuses on the characters, on their psychology and why they are invested in what they do (both killers and law enforcers). The whole show is fuelled, not by a rubbernecking need to see gruesome things or a simple fear of danger, but by sympathy and dark intrigue and memorable characters acted perfectly.
In case it isn't obvious, I would recommend the show strongly. It (Season 1 at least, I haven't watched 2) is one of the best things I've ever seen.
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