As time rolls closer to the end of the decade, many critics are already claiming the past ten to fifteen years as the “Golden Age of Television”. Since HBO graced the world of TV crime drama with David Chases’ seminal and groundbreaking Sopranos and David Simon’s uber-realistic The Wire, TV drama is now seen to be a medium with major narrative heft, heavy Shakespearean mythology and thematic/symbolic concern and a stellar cast and crew performing at the height of their craft.
As HBO commissioned Nic Pizzolatto’s True Detective (TD), an anthology-based crime drama in which the style, narrative, location and cast change every season, HBO executives would most likely have seen that glint of Golden Age material in Pizzolatto’s writing and the production’s stellar cast, particularly in Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey’s roles as the two protagonists. When the first season of TD drew widespread critical acclaim for its writing, performances, directing, setting and story, it could be argued that HBO had again hit the mark in ensuring that its broadcasted programs, especially crime dramas such as TD, were to be immortalized in the Golden Age of TV for years to come. However as the tone and narrative shift and new cast members inhabit the personalities of their characters, how will that statement ring true when the second season comes to a close, and can we trace the path of TD‘s quality and success as the second season opens?
The first two major announcements of the production for TD’s sophomore season drew major attention for fans and critics. The location for the anthology crime drama shifting to southern California as opposed to the depths of Louisiana seen in its first season and the casting of the series’ major protagonists instigated a number of different first impressions. First impressions of many were of excitement and anticipation, though some saw California as a generic crime-based drama setting and the major cast of Colin Farell, Vince Vaughn, Rachel McAdams and Taylor Kitsch as miscast and arbitrary. However, when the second season premiere aired, it was immediately clear that it was not only the cast and setting that were subject to change.
From the opening shots of Southern California’s sepia-toned, part-barren landscape and the behaviour of TD’s troubled and mysterious anti-heroes, it was clear that TD had been overhauled in almost every way. With Pizzolatto’s previous experience as an English Literature professor it is obvious that the dialogue and characters are similar to such fiction written by notable authors like James Ellroy and Raymond Carver. Just as the southern gothic genre inspired TD’s narrative story line and philosophical based conversations, Ellroy and Carver – dirty realism and crime fiction – heavily inspire the terse, economical and downbeat dialogue spoken by the protagonists and the harsh, gritty sun-burnt landscape of its setting.
Taylor Kitsch plays a scarred and troubled war Veteran who participated in an unknown program named “Black Mountain”. During this initial episode, we see him being put on leave after being rumoured to have solicited a sexual act from an actress, in favour of letting the actress off on a speeding ticket. We do not learn much of Kitsch’s character yet he is crucial to the final scene of the episode. Rachel McAdams character is also largely un-exposed and what we do learn (her commitment to her job and her family issues) is not so well written and handled as other parts of the characterizations of the protagonists.
Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) is an alcoholic, overbearingly corrupted detective in the fictional city of Vinci, somewhere in Southern Californian county. Farrell, an arguably much underrated character actor excels in his role here so far. Ray is plagued by the demons of his past – a possibly illegitimate and currently bullied son who may have been the product of a vicious attack and rape of his ex-wife. He is violent, unpredictable and impulsiveness and has a strange relationship with career criminal/business man Frank Seymon. Seymon, played by Vince Vaughn wants to go straight and we learn he is also trying for children with his wife played by British actress Kelly Reilly. Though Vaughn hasn’t quite settled into his character at this stage, this only heightens the excitement of the show. Seymon wants a large hand in a proposed high-speed rail line that will pass through California yet the director of the proposed rail line is missing as the viewer knows he has been driven around in a vehicle, dead, for most of the episode.
It is this director who is found dead at the end, and the major protagonists come together in a final scene, investigating the dead character that concludes the episode. One key flaw of the episode, is that, the random references to literature and mythology can become tiresome at times. However, this rarely undermines the excellent quality of the show. It is unclear at this early stage where the winding story of season two will end up but the season premiere did a good job of letting the TD viewers that it would be a dark and memorable one.