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Why TRUE DETECTIVE Season One Worked

Now that season four of Game of Thrones has concluded, let’s get back to True Detective

It’s been three months since Nic Pizzolatto’s eight episode anthology series wrapped up its inaugural season. Nominations are beginning to emerge and rumors are swirling about the follow-up to the hit HBO freshman drama. But now that we’ve had some time (which is a flat circle, ICYMI) to digest and reflect, I’d like to consider a few reasons why season one worked so well and apply those things to what we actually do know about season two.


It’s An Anthology

I don’t know how or why more people didn’t know this upfront. Perhaps if they did it would have managed expectations? As a viewer going in, I felt like it was a great asset to know that the story of Martin Hart and Rust Cohle would be over and done with in a solid eight episodes. Just to be clear, incase you think otherwise, Rust Cohle isn’t coming back, y’all. Nope, eight episodes. Done. I know Matthew McConaughey has recently been quoted as saying otherwise but this is like Bryan Cranston saying that maybe Walter White didn’t really die in the finale of Breaking Bad. GET SERIOUS!

Friends, we can’t bitch about the endless barrage of sequels, requels and reboots if we as fans won’t let things run their course. Season one is over. It wasn’t the ending you wanted? Tough! This is True Detective. There are no pretty little bows here. Come back next season, it’s going to be a whole new ride. Approaching the series in this way was a genius move on creator Pizzolatto’s part. A contained season allowed True Detective to lock in A-list talent and the show took an unprecedented approach in working from a single, 450 page script and hiring one badass director to bring the vision to life. The more series’ continue to experiment with anthology on television, the more I think it’s the way to go, however ambitious it may be.

Speaking of all of this…


One Direction

Not the British pop sensations! Cary Fukunaga, people. As a viewer, I can’t say enough about this guy. If anyone put their name on the map after season one, it’s him. Before True Detective, Fukunaga had two feature credits to his name: Sin Nombre and Jane Eyre. Post-Hart and Cohle, Fukunaga finds himself in pre-production on Beasts of No Nation with Idris Elba, signed on to direct The Black Count and, as far as anyone knows, is still attached to New Line’s feature adaptation of Stephen King’s It.

In addition to having a single director on season one, the show also had one writer, creator Nic Pizzolatto. I would argue that a singular directorial vision and a singular voice writing the series allowed for the coherent telling of one complete story. We know that season two will feature multiple directors and Pizzolatto has voiced his exhaustion with being tasked to write an entire eight episode season solo and doesn’t see himself taking the series past three seasons. Alright, so maybe as an audience we shouldn’t get used to being so spoiled — which is all the more reason to appreciate season one’s efforts, if you ask me. But come on, Nic! You knew what you were getting into; haven’t you heard? It’s not TV, it’s HBO.

True Detective


Two leads! Female leads! Three men and a baby! A partridge in a pear tree! Allow me to offer this in terms of True Detective parings, castings, whatever-ings: is it possible that maybe the Woody Harreleson/ Matthew McConaughey combination worked so well because A) They are both really great actors, 2) They are friends in real life, of course they have chemistry, and D) They were the right actors for the roles? Yes, I think all of that is possible! But it is also possible that whomever the next batch of detectives are, they could have just as great but probably different chemistry, too.

Now let’s address the elephant in the room regarding future casting: I’m not afraid to describe myself as The “F” Word (“feminist”) and I will openly admit that I felt like season one had a women problem. However, I will also openly admit that that did not prevent me from loving the season and feeling like Pizzolatto told the exact story he wanted to tell. So, I want more of that: telling the story that he wants to tell. If that happens includes one or two or three or four badass ladies, well, yes, I would really love that, too. Maybe those ladies could be played by Rose Byrne or Angela Bassett (or Rose Byrne AND Angela Bassett!).

The point is, I don’t want a hyper-corrected, “listen to the fans” approach to the follow up season of this show. One of my greatest fears is that True Detective will follow in the footsteps of American Horror Story and throw into season two their equivalent of aliens and demons and zombies and Nazi doctors and so many guest stars you’d think it was a 60s variety hour. Be cool, True Detective. Cast who you need to cast but don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Remember: Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in Alien and Sandra Bullock’s Ryan Stone in Gravity were both originally written as a dudes.


Genre Bending

We have to talk about The Yellow King! So awesome. Yes, even with little to no pay off, still, totally awesome. I wrote about the literary implications of The Yellow King after episode two aired and Io9 most definitely expanded on those same ideas a few weeks later. Regardless of payoff, mythology is fun and the internet loves it. While season one of True Detective didn’t fit neatly into a “genre show” shape box, it also doesn’t fit into a “crime drama procedural” shaped one, either. Pizzolatto has said that season two will focus on “secret occult history of the United States transportation system” so some form of genre is back! And probably in subtle, True Detective fashion.


To sum it all up, I think it’s safe to say that season one of True Detective surprised everyone. Pizzolatto’s new series came bursting out of the gate with a style and story all its own. It was a truly unique viewing experience and I think praise is due not only to the creative talent behind the series but also to HBO for green-lighting a completely original idea. True Detective was a drama not based on an old movie or graphic novel or British series of the same name, and the result ended up being a second HBO series to give Breaking Bad’s final season a run for its money. Bravo, True Detective! I’m looking forward to wiping the slate clean and diving into season two.

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  1. Janice says:

    In what universe is it cool to embed spoilers for a different and unrelated show, especially if you’re writing about TV? It’s like, the cardinal rule! So I’m not up to date with my Breaking Bad. I guess now I am. THANKS. 

  2. C.T Phipps says:

    Great article. I think you didn’t talk as much about the fact the show was ABOUT so much, though. Southern values (and how they can toxic to even believers like Hart), cosmicism, the actual serial killer plot, and so much else. Still, I agree the show needed more female “presence.”

  3. NYCrex says:

    True Detective was an acting tour-de-force. Won’t be replicated. I want more but it is unlike The Sopranos or Boardwalk Empire. 

  4. gg says:

    fantastic article

  5. Great article! I completely agree with you on all fronts. One thing I think that’s worth noting is the perfect blend of fantasy elements in a dark realistic world.
    I hope that season 2 is a complete breathe of fresh air with a potential tie in to the Yellow King.
    Quick Question: Do you know if Season 1 of True Detective passes the Bechdel Test?