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Early Reviews: Manage Your Expectations for the Return of ‘True Detective’

Early Reviews: Manage Your Expectations for the Return of 'True Detective'

After debuting in 2014 to critical acclaim (and the inevitable backlash), becoming enough of a cultural obsession to crash HBO Go during the season finale and disappoint those, myself included, who’d first defended it, the second season of “True Detective” (HBO) was always bound to face impossibly high expectations.

It didn’t help that writer and series creator Nic Pizzolatto came off preening and thin-skinned when The Hollywood Reporter profiled him last summer, dismissing trenchant criticism
of the first season’s tendency to deploy women’s bodies as little more
than set decoration and posing for oh-so-serious photos to accompany the story. He’s had a target on his back ever since. More importantly, though, Cary Fukunaga—who treated the languid, overgrown landscapes of the Louisiana bayou with careful, creepy Gothic romanticism, as in his superb adaptation of “Jane Eyre”—has been replaced by the small cadre of directors more common to television, led by “Fast & Furious” helmer Justin Lin, and even the more positive reviews of the new episodes suggest that the series’ style suffers in the process.

Whether “True Detective” returns to form or becomes a major disappointment may depend as much on your opinion of the first season as on your opinion of second. Those who saw last year’s occult mystery as an artistic breakthrough for the trusty crime drama are likely to find the forced affect harder to swallow within the more straightforward narrative structure, particularly with attentions divided among four main characters—Vinci, California detective Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell), indebted to mob figure Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn) and embroiled in a murder investigation with a highway patrolman (Taylor Kitsch) and a sheriff’s detective (Rachel McAdams). Those who read season one of “True Detective” as a rudimentary potboiler gussied up for HBO, on the other hand, may be more prepared to accept season two’s streamlined charms.

Politicians call this “managing expectations,” and if the early reviews are any indication, the return of “True Detective” requires viewers to do the same. Season two premieres Sunday, June 21 at 9pm on HBO.

Brian Lowry, Variety
“Pizzolatto — whose directing partner on the first, Cary Fukunaga, has
taken his distinctive vision and moved on — delivers a hard-boiled but
cliched view of L.A., framed by overhead views of tentacle-like freeways
and ugly power plants. The cops’ journeys yield encounters with
scheming actresses, ghoulish clinics for the rich, underground clubs and
hippy-dippy spiritual retreats, set against a backdrop of money and
corruption.”

Tim Goodman, The Hollywood Reporter
“‘True Detective’ is trying so hard here it hurts… Pizzolatto has inexplicably made every character in this season spout
clipped and elliptical phrases. They begin to pile up so quickly that
you soon realize there’s no flow to the characters, no realism to them.
They seem like cardboard cut-outs. ‘Children are a disappointment.
Remain unfettered,’ says the mayor of Vinci, who is drunk all the time
for no real reason.”

David Hinckley, New York Daily News
“It’s dense and it’s dark. If there were a quiz, you’d have to take
notes. But the show breezes through the most important of all viewer
tests: At the end of the three episodes, you’re itching to see the
fourth. ‘True Detective’ will make a great binge-watch down the line. But it
simultaneously reminds us that real-time viewing has its own pleasures,
like the suspense of having to wait a week to find out what happens
next.”

Devin Gordon, GQ
“Two things are clear from the season-two premiere: One, Fukunaga will be missed—his replacement, ‘Fast & Furious’
franchise veteran Justin Lin, has done a credible job preserving the
show’s signature gloom and noir-ish palette, but he’s got a much heavier
hand and much less patience for letting dread build slowly; and two,
this is Pizzolatto’s show, to the bone. This is his vision—the macro
theme of season two seems to be, once again, all the evil that powerful
white men do—and these are his words.”

Ben Travers, Indiewire
“It’s also much darker fare than before. No women are tortured, killed and tied to a tree, but the lack of levity combined with a newfound need for exposition make the first three episodes a bit of a slog. During the premiere episode, Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) and her partner are shown driving away from an interview. A few curt words are exchanged and then we’re on to the next scene. It’s a notable exchange because Season 2 is full of instances that seem to exist mainly as a way for Pizzolatto to say, “We’re not doing that again.” No more long, philosophical bonding moments between partners. No more interrogation room chats leading to flashbacks (a trait quickly acknowledged and dismissed). No more decades-long search for a serial killer.”

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