I’m far from the first person to point out how disappointingly bad the second season of HBO’s “True Detective” has been. I just watched another recorded episode last night, in the futile hopes that the series would somehow pull itself together. I’d watch the finale but I’ve gotten behind on “Naked and Afraid” and to be honest, even watching filthy digitized people eat barbequed snake is more entertaining than this season’s edition of “True Detective”.
The first season was quite good, and cynical viewers might have expected a certain amount of drop-off in quality for season two, but this has been more along the lines of a bungee jump without the cord. Here are a few comparisons of how using the same recipe with different ingredients can go horribly wrong:
Season 1: Aerial shots of vast Louisiana swamps and woodlands – worked because it reinforced the plot. You could easily imagine creepy people doing awful things out in the middle of nowhere.
Season 2: Aerial shots of vast highway interchanges and rail yards – didn’t work because the shots brought to mind strip mining and commuting more than violent crime. It also seemed like there was twice as much aerial footage – maybe they had extra money in the budget for helicopter shots. At least it reduced the number of times we had to look at Collin Farrell pushing his Shemp-style hair back out of his face.
Season 1: Powerful secret organization hides terrible secrets of child abuse and murder – worked because anyone perpetrating such atrocious crimes would be secretive by nature, and who doesn’t suspect that powerful, rich people are up to no good?
Season 2: Powerful men have big sex parties with beautiful prostitutes and/or meet in richly appointed studies to make shady land deals – didn’t work because while the idea of shady land deals is entirely believable, the thought of captains of industry and politicians having orgiastic fun in front of one another is absurd.
Season 1: Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughay play cops with personal demons and are dedicated to solving a case despite overwhelming odds against them – worked because Woody portrayed a blue collar cop who plays fast and loose, while McConaughay’s character is a brainiac whose oddness and intellect are both his best and worst enemies. Harrelson’s character is responsible for asking McConaughay’s WTF he’s talking about during his philosophical rants.
Season 2: Collin Farrell, Rachel McAdams and Taylor Kitsch play cops with personal demons and are dedicated to solving a case despite overwhelming odds against them – didn’t work because for the most part, it was difficult to have much compassion for any of them. Every other line had one of them making obtuse comments about the meaning of life. The is no sounding board character, so the audience must ask WTF these people are talking about during their philosophical rants.
Season 1: Opening credits, music – worked because the images and music evoked the overlapping of good and bad, light and dark, etc. Hearing the theme song “Far From Any Road” still creeps me out. The low, mechanical rumble during suspenseful scenes brings to mind the beating heart of a dangerous, hidden evil.
Season 2: Opening credits, theme music – did not work because…I don’t even know why it didn’t work, but it didn’t. The theme song title, “Nevermind” sounds like good advice. The low, mechanical rumble during suspenseful scenes brings to mind the possibility that someone is having an MRI nearby.
Odds and Ends:
- The bruised girl singing in the dive bar every time Collin Farrel’s character needs to have a confidential meeting. I’m sorry, there’s just no way she gets to sing there or anywhere else – not even on open-mike night in the City of the Deaf. Replace that droning songbird with the karaoke talents of out-of-town businessmen singing The Cowboy Junkies songbook.
- The cops, one of whom was working in the same capacity as Erik Estrada’s character on CHiPs, have the ability to look at complicated legal documents and instantly determine what the fuck they actually mean. I didn’t realize that motorcycle cops had advanced training in contract law.
- Collin Farrel’s pudgy, ginger son – I know about as much about genetics as I do about the legal documents for land transactions, but I know it’s genetically impossible to have a kid who looks like that from any combination of those three parents.
- They always pick the right door for the plot. Kitsch’s character is being held in a labyrinth of tunnels which according to one of the bad guys, “runs beneath the entire city.” He somehow escapes, killing a half dozen special forces guys who shine their flashlights to give him good targets. After scrambling through miles of tunnels, he emerges via a ladder up to the street level, and the last bad cop is standing right behind the door waiting to shoot him in the back. In an earlier scene, Rachel McAdams is stumbling around a huge mansion dragging a drugged woman along behind her. No one is able to stop her despite her sluggish cargo. She happens to emerge from one of the dozen or more available exterior doors to where Kitsch is standing waiting for her. I can’t find the men’s room at the Cheesecake Factory but somehow these characters manage to pick the right door.
- Some of the most stilted, unnatural dialogue I’ve ever heard. Vince Vaughn’s character alone has more awkward things to say in any one episode than I’ve said in my entire life (including some epic drunken stupors and childhood night terrors). It’s difficult to imagine an actor reading those lines and not asking for someone to consider rewriting it to sound like it’s being said by a human being. If you think I’m exaggerating, please note that in one scene, Vince Vaughn’s character made an analogy that not being able to identify his enemies “Is like..blue balls in your heart“.
HBO has contracted with writer Nic Pizzolatto for one more season. Like any true optimistic masochist, I’ll tune in to see if the same formula for season 3 yields an incredible souffle or cold scrambled eggs. A quick FYI; I have a couple of manuscripts on the back burner if HBO is looking for new writing talent.