HBO’s pedigree for original content is such that any new project merits a cursory glance at least. With two well known actors headlining this new anthology show, there was even more of a reason to watch. As the weeks rolled on for this short season, the hype and acclaim only grew. Only with Breaking Bad has such accolades been deserved. Stop reading this, or any other article about True Detective. Watch it, now.
Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson play detectives Rustin Cohle and Marty Hart, respectfully. Reluctantly partnered together, the two, in present day 2012, are being interviewed about their first case together from 1995. One that garnered them plenty of attention. The story continues to 2002, then 2012.
While I’ve enjoyed Harrelson on other projects, McConaughey has never entertained me. Here, both give the best performances I’ve seen from either, particularly McConaughey. I can’t picture anyone else playing Rust. Harrelson’s Marty was a typical cop, a hard man, but a cheat, unable to remain faithful to his wife Maggie (Michelle Monaghan). Rust though, having been damaged by life and drug abuse from years undercover has a warped nihilistic view of the world. Throughout the show he says incredibly profound, but dark things. When he spoke, I paid attention.
Performances can only take the material so far. A strong structure must support them. True Detective has that in spades. Every episode of the eight were written by series creator Nic Pizzolatto, and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga. It’s not common for one person to write or direct every episode of a show, mostly due to the schedule their beholden to. Being an HBO show, this allowed them to take the time with production, delivering a sold and consistent feel. Just as I can’t picture anyone other than McConaughey as Rust, I couldn’t imagine someone else putting the words into his mouth. This felt like a long movie. One that gripped you from beginning to end.
Aside from the writing being wickedly smart, the delivery was astounding. No exposition was to be had. Often times viewers were dropped into a scene with no explanation. While the scenario leading to this was quickly explained, the writing was intelligent enough to allow viewers to surmise what had transpired. For example, when Marty returned home with his teenager daughter, everything from the setting to the expression on their faces informed you. Smart setups like this littered the series, increasing my enjoyment.
There were plenty of smartly filmed scenes that kept me tense throughout, but there’s one in particular I want to highlight. The end of episode four, “Who Goes There,” was exhilarating. The single camera shot, following them through the neighborhood was expertly crafted, keeping the action correctly centered while ramping up the tension. There were others I vividly remember, seeing the busted taillight on Rust’s truck at the end of episode six, “Haunted Houses,” or Rust’s visions, notably the birds in episode, “Seeing Things.” I could go on, but the single camera chase stuck with me the most.
One final note, the character aesthetics were astounding. Taking place across three separate times, Harrelson and McConaughey both had distinctive looks that not only placed them in that era, but showed their evolution. Harrelson’s was done well, with him loosing hair and gaining weight over the years, but McConaughey’s stole the show. His 2012 incarnation looked nothing like him. Aside from the obvious hair and mustache, his general haggard look, the lines on this face, his transformation was astounding.
As a viewer I was blown away. As a writer I was put to shame. The bar has been raised all around. My expectations have been permanently increased, not only for the type of shows I spend my time watching, but for my goals as a creator. I can’t recommend this enough. Be wary of the King in Yellow.
What was your favorite Rust line? Favorite sequence? Comment below!
Kind of scared to read the King in Yellow now.