About a quarter of the way into the premiere episode of HBO’s “True Detective”, Matthew McConaughey’s character, a detective named Rust Cohle, beings to wax poetic. Riding as the passenger in a prototypical detective sedan, Cohle stares glumly out the window and rambles on as his partner, Marty Hart, played by Woody Harrelson, listens in:
“Human consciousness is a tragic misstep in human evolution.”
For a series that I had highly anticipated, these ruminations on the human spirit nearly crippled my enjoyment of the scene, and of the show as a whole. McConaughey’s performance as Cohle has been widely praised, but it is my opinion that his performance teeters too closely to parody and at times distracts from the show. His angsty proclamations could almost be reproduced as an SNL-style comedy sketch about a hard boiled detective, one who sucks down cigarettes and furrows his brow at anyone in the immediate area who may be making the unfortunate decision to smile.
The show, fortunately, recovers. While not an original or transcendent episode of television, “True Detective” manages to overcome the ham-fisted sermons of Rust Cohle and delivers a capable first episode. The characters of Cohle and Hart, who both seem to fill the role of alcoholic and obsessive policemen, balance each other out slightly. Hart is the incredulous one, unable to understand the quantum physics of human psychology that Cohle is ever willing to dispense. They aren’t original, but they aren’t completely uninteresting.
Television has been ruled by intensely serious drama for the past few years, and “True Detective” belongs firmly in that category. I’m not sure either character laughed once during the entire episode, but the number of prolonged stares certainly outnumbered the order of episodes in the season (eight). This is serious business, this show is here for examination. Much will be learned, many emotions will be suppressed.
That said, I do love detective stories. I love them even more when they are a finite commitment. HBO’s decision to make this series an anthology, with new characters and stories making up each season, is something that the television medium has been missing for a few decades. The era of “Lost”, with never ending seasons that struggle to maintain control of the story, are most likely a thing of the past (although they will surely return in the future). And the wonderful thing is that even if this show turns into a total disaster, I will gladly spend eight episodes watching that unfold. It’s a minor commitment. Viewers won’t have a chance to realize a disaster before the show renews.
“True Detective” didn’t blow me away, but it didn’t completely fail either. And that’s probably enough to keep the series alive and well on HBO.