Tag Archives: True Detective

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2015 Edition: 54-51

21 Mar

Our first comedy of the rankings shows up along with three cable dramas that only have the potential of conspiracy in common.

Intro here and 58-55 here.

54. True Detective – 2014: 21

True Detective

Thousands of words have been spilled over the disappointing second season of True Detective, some by me, and I’m not sure I have more to add; one-dimensional characters, frustrating plot choices, and misguided casting, let to a somewhat sad season of television. It’s not lower than this because it was strangely ambitious in a way other bad shows aren’t; Flash and Arrow failed on a lower percentage of what they tried, but True Detective tried way more. There was something interesting enough in the failure of True Detective to probably ensure I’d watch another season, but that doesn’t make it a success. Recently, this past season of True Detective made me think of the Star Wars prequels; unquestionably failures, but, especially compared to The Force Awakens, surprisingly ambitious failures which actually really went for it.

53. Community – 2014: 10

Community

The Yahoo! Screen (and points if you remember that Yahoo!’s short-lived video service was called Yahoo! Screen) season of Community really made me sad. It’s fair to say I had no right to be disappointed by the season, consider how up-and-down Community has been over the years, and considering the turmoil behind-the-scenes including the cast changes and the new network. Still, it was one of the more disappointing seasons of TV I can remember considering what a special place Community has held in my heart at times, and considering this was going to be its likely last impression (unless they actually get around to that movie). There were fleeting glimpses of what made Community great; but they were gobbled up by so much mediocrity, poor choices, reused plots, unbalanced character usage, overdone jokes and just a seeming running out of ideas. The fifth season, upon reflection, I found to be better than I had believed initially; with the sixth, it’s sadly the opposite. There’s way too much Dean, a side character elevated to a larger role than his character could handle, and again just rehashing and overusing what worked well when done subtly and in moderation. Quite simply, the magic was gone.

52. Orphan Black – 2014: 25

Orphan Black

Orphan Black post-Season 1 is a bit of a mess rendered worth viewing simply due to the powers of Tatiana Maslany. The plot was clearly put together with only one season in mind and since then there have had to be incomprehensible secret organization on top of incomprehensible secret organization on top of incomprehensible secret organization to prevent the Clone Club from finding all the answers, past the point where it makes all that much sense. Fortunately through for Orphan Black, the show has a sense of humor, which many shows in this tier (see: House of Cards, AMC’s The Walking Dead) lack, especially in regards to the generally enjoyable Alison plotlines. Orphan Black is hardly appointment television; but I don’t think I’ll be giving it up just yet because I like the clones enough to eventually catch up, even if that means on a lazy Saturday weeks after the episodes have aired.

51. AMC’s The Walking Dead – 2014: 34

The Walking Dead

I’m in a strange place with AMC’s The Walking Dead. Objectively, this has been one of, if not the single strongest year in the show’s existence. It’s hardly spectacular; but the year is notable more for the absence of the bigger problems that plagued swaths of AMC’s The Walking Dead past; glacial pacing, bringing the Governor back well past his due date, focus on the wrong characters, young Carl. AMC’s The Walking Dead has never been a great show but it’s had spurts of promise that have always, until now, kept me watching, and on paper, this past year would certainly appear to be composed largely of such spurts. Subjectively though, while I recognize the show is actually in a fairly solid place, for whatever it’s worth, I simply seem to have a case of AMC’s The Walking Dead fatigue. I’m just tired of the show. The novelty and the fun have worn on me, and while the plot changes, I’ve felt some sense of sameness that has been grating on me over the seasons. Several times in the past couple of months I planned to put on an episode, just to realize I really didn’t want to watch one. Will I ever get back to it, or will I simply fade away from the show? Tune into next year’s rankings to find out.

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End of Season Report: True Detective, Season 2

10 Aug

True Detective

It was several episodes ago that True Detective was deemed collectively by the internet, and not wrongly, a failure, and it seems oddly anticlimactic to have waited until the final episode for the inevitable post-mortem that everyone will be writing. After all, the internet collectively managed to figure out the original setting-the-plot-into-motion mystery as to who killed Caspere, though by that point, the mystery didn’t really seem to matter that much anyway; that aspect of the finale was wrapped up in the first third. Relative to expectation, the failure of True Detective’s second season is one of the most notable in recent TV history (Homeland’s quick descent is probably the best, most recent predecessor) which means it’s spending a few words on what went wrong, but what’s striking is how easily explained the cause of the failure is. True Detective season 2 just didn’t work on any level; the plot, the characters, the writing, the casting, and the cinemetaography didn’t work individually and certainly didn’t work together. There were stray moments, and some actors were better than others, and it wasn’t as awful as much of a relatively failure it was. But it was.

Some failures are extremely instructive. Lost set the path for the return of complicated supernatural shows on television, but also how not to end them; have some semblance of a plan before you jump in. The Killing’s first season finale was a lesson on disappointment and anticlimax; don’t build a show of a certain type, only to try to become a different kind of show at the last minute. Unfortunately, I’m not sure True Detective’s failings are particularly valuable outside of that show itself; their use may be limited to helping Nic Pizzolatto not screw this up en route to a potential True Detective season 3.

The goals, on paper, were noble. A neo-noir seemed ripe for the type of story and type of voice Nic Pizzolatto used in the first season successfully. And yet nothing, right from the beginning, quite clicked, but everyone, myself included, was willing to give it some rope, because we had the first season in our rear view mirror, and because it seemed ambitious enough that we wanted to give it every chance to succeed. But every problem right there from the beginning remained to the end.

For one, it was too confusing. Noirs can be complicated, and there’s nothing wrong with that; shows that don’t baby their viewers should be congratulated. But there’s a difference between being complex and being needlessly hard to follow; the alphabet soup of names were thrown around without an appropriate background to get a hold of them, and it started to become a joke. Burris. Stan. Holloway. Who were they, and why did we care?

The major characters were a big part of the problem as well. Vince Vaughn never was able to quite pull off gangster Frank, though Pizzolatto is at least as much responsible for delivering incredibly stilted dialogue that sounded foreign and awkward. Hyper-stylized dialogue can work in the right circumstances; see Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino, each who make their living on their own brand of extremely stylized dialogue. But the dialogue not only sounded incredibly out of place, even in context, it just sounded bad.

The characters were generally shallow and uninteresting, and just wallowing in an incredible amount of self-loathing without much going on besides it. Taylor Kitsch’s Woodrugh, particularly, suffered from this; his entire plot hinged on his suppressed homosexuality, and there was no real investigation into that nor did it serve a role as anything more than another reason for him to hate himself. That’s all he was, and Kitsch was unable to through sheer acting bring anything more to the character. Vaughn and Kitsch had a daunting and perhaps impossible task to make their characters more than their shoddy writing and neither accomplished it.

Colin Farrell’s Velcpro and Rachel McAdams’ Bezzerides were only marginally better. Both were very much damaged self-hating sad sacks in the same way; unable to function in normal society with normal people. Both had a combination of ever so slightly deeper characters and somewhat better cast actors to raise them a notch above Frank and Woodrugh, but no further.

The plot was confusing and never enticing, and that’s important to note. But plot is often the great McGuffin of a noir. Many a noir have been told on a plot that was a hook, only to tell a story that was hardly about the plot itself. Neo-noirs Big Lebowski and Inherent Vice both have incredibly convoluted plots (the latter less coherent than the former) but plot is not paramount to either; the atmosphere, the dreamlike sequences, the characters, the personalities, the cinematography, the dialogue, and the interactions makes those movies go. True Detective doesn’t have any of those to stand on.

Nic Pizzolatto clearly understands what’s in a typical noir. This was just a failed exercise every which way. An uninteresting confusing plot, which was unsatisfying, weak and poor dialogue, poor casting and acting, and no directorial quality which lifted any of this up. A couple of these elements may have made a season worth watching, but unfortunately, it’s back to the drawing board for season 3.

Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 2014 Edition: 23-20

25 Feb

Four more on the docket – a first year show, a second year show, a third year show, and an eight year going on 35th year show.

Intro here and 43-40 here and 39-36 here and 35-32 here and 31-28 here and 27-24 here.

23. Girls – 2013: 26

Girls

As Girls moves firmly into its fourth season, the great hype and controversy that accompanied its start have mostly fallen away in favor of the meat-and-potatoes business of making television, one season at a time. Here, Girls has a mixed record. Girls remains constantly interesting TV even when it struggles. Almost every Girls episode contains bits of strong material, and every season contains a couple of really strong episodes where the show forgets its shortcomings for a half hour and puts it all together. “Beach House,” the seemingly annual episode that really brings the four titular girls together for 30 minutes was one, and “Flo” which featured Hannah saying goodbye to her dying grandmother was another. Girls always seems to have a hard time giving its four primary characters the screen time and arcs they need to really dig in to their characters in depth and propel their storylines forward. Hannah is consistently the most fleshed out, and though the character can drive me crazy sometimes, she’s generally well-built. As for Shoshanna, Marnie, and Jessa, well, not as much; Girls’ boys Ray and Adam are often more interesting. Sometimes it doesn’t quite make sense why they’re all friends, although I vacillate on how much of a problem that actually is. As frustrating as Girls can be though, I’ve never considered stopping watching, and while some of that is because it’s so easy (a mere 12 half hour episodes a season) some is because no matter what I at least count on Girls to offer up something interesting which in and of itself raises it above many other shows.

22. Doctor Who – 2013: Not eligible

Doctor Who

I completed a years-long catch up of the new Doctor Who (meaning starting with the 2005 ninth doctor Russell T. Davies edition) last year, and while I’ll never be a true obsessive, I grew to really enjoy the show. Relative expectations were key to enjoyment. Breaking Bad or Mad Men Doctor Who isn’t. Doctor Who is pure fun at its best, all about the journey rather than destination. There’s always a deus ex machine coming in the nick of time to solve whatever convoluted crisis the doctor has got himself into and there are no long-held rules that can’t be broken on a whim because the Doctor says so. While technically a science fiction show, it’s as soft as science fiction can get, sometimes, at its best, sharing a sensibility with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Doctor Who has done an excellent job casting Doctors, which has been essential to really making the show work, and the 12th doctor, played by Peter Capaldi, is no exception. A crankier, older, slightly more cynical doctor is an excellent contrast to the past few Doctors to keep the show interesting. Doctor Who is definitely not for everyone, and the lack of serial-ness makes it stand out in an increasingly serial world television world, making it feel less like essential viewing. Still, during its best episodes Doctor Who cleverly blends a combination of sci-fi, fantasy, action, and horror tropes with witty banter, a silly irreverent tone, and memorable antagonists, and can be a whole lot of fun.

21. True Detective – 2013: Not eligible

True Detective

True Detective absolutely took over the internet for eight weeks last winter, and was hailed as the second coming, before a slow, slight backlash put the promising HBO debut back where it belonged to be all along, as a very good, very solid debut season, but one that was not truly transcendent. The appeals of True Detective are obvious and plentiful. The direction is brilliant, as is the cinematography; the one-take ending the fourth episode may not entirely all come together from a plot perspective, but it’s a startling and visually stunning technical achievement. The acting is excellent. The story, well, it’s definitely good, and I found the mystery satisfying all the way through, though some did not – anyone who expected a major victory rather than a minor one wanted a different show. True Detective was definitely a bit exploitative, on top of merely the lack of strong female characters, which plagues many television shows, including many good television shows, the depiction of female nudity often felt gratuitous and added little to nothing to the show. The layers of myth and aura and the general Rust Cohle-ness which provided the show with much of its tone could be ham-handed sometimes and a bit much, but at the same time was essential to the very core of the show. On the whole, I don’t want to be down on the show; I merely want to tamper down the initial euphoria, though time has probably done that. True Detective, despite dealing in the most trod over profession in all of TV, was interesting because of its direction and because of its tone, and I look forward to the second season.

20. Nathan for You – 2013: Not eligible

Nathan for You

A show unlike any other show on this list, Nathan for You involves enough unscripted interaction with real people that I almost deemed it ineligible for this list. But I didn’t, so here it is. Nathan for You’s high-concept is that comedian Nathan Fielder is a business expert who is looking to help struggling small businesses with new innovative strategies. Of course, these strategies are silly, absurd, and sometimes downright asinine, and watching the process is frequently hilarious. There are several different types of stories within this range on the show. Sometimes the idea is out there but oddly clever, sometimes it’s too stupid for words. Sometimes Nathan gets along well with the business owner and other characters and they seem to be on the same page, sometimes he has antagonistic relationships, and sometimes the awkwardness borders on the most awkward that British comedy has to offer. Some segments are short and sweet, some spin out of control and take up a entire episodes. Nathan for You can be hit and miss, but when it hits, it is laugh-out-loud funny, and sometimes even offers oddly poignant social commentary to boot. The defining episodes of last season were “”Souvenir Shop / E.L.A.I.F.F.” and “Dumb Starbucks,” both full episode tour de forces that saw Nathan taking his ideas to extremes in order to comply with contract and parody law.

End of Season Report: True Detective

10 Mar

True Detective

While it took some people until the already legendary six-minute one shot that ended episode four to get on the True Detective bandwagon, I was more or less on board from day one. I loved what the show focused on right in that first couple of episodes. Some found these episodes slow before things really picked up, but I found them deliberately paced, but enthralling. It’s because the show came back around in its finale to focusing on what I liked about it its first couple of episodes, before I knew to look up the conspiracies and the yellow king and so forth that I liked the ending. Perhaps the best way to start talking about True Detective is to say that I’ve never seen a murder mystery show where the murder mystery mattered less than in True Detective, and I mean that in a purely positive way.

If you’ve read interviews with True Detective creator and writer Nic Pizzolatto, you know that he’s assured viewers throughout that the show isn’t out to fool anyone; he has a healthy distaste for M. Night Shyamalan-style twists and reveals that seem to overshadow the majority of the work and make the viewer feel jerked around. In attempting to keep the show grounded and real, he may have, however, inadvertently jerked viewers around, due to the expectations modern TV viewers have. Pizzolatto’s outlook, which I found refreshing, is the exception rather than the norm, and 21st century TV and movie viewers we’re trained to be obsessive and expect dramatic twists and changes of pace. If you didn’t know better, you might have expected True Detective, with its layers of references to Carcosa and the Yellow King, and religious iconography, to veer if not full out into Lost-like supernatural, then at least to a full-blown cult or deep within a conspiracy that goes all-the-way-to-the-top. None of these were the case, though I don’t think the references and imagery was put in to fool anyway; it was merely part of a rich tapestry of themes and symbols that can exist without having the weight of a much bigger, more epic plot behind it; something that I don’t think would seem so shocking if we didn’t have the weight of expectation that other epic shows have trained us with (take the disastrous ending of The Killing – it wasn’t the potentially somewhat straight forward ending the first season could have led to – it was a much more complicated conspiracy we had to watch a season more and be jerked around with to get to).

So if the show fooled you with its obsessions, and if you had different expectations, maybe you felt jerked around by the relatively anticlimactic nature of the conclusion. While I’m sorry that you had that impression, it’s somewhat understandable that you did, and if you did, well disappointment with the ending was equally understandable.

Fortunately, though, as I mentioned above, that’s not how I viewed the show. Don’t get me wrong; I loved all the obsessive angles of the show – pondering about the meaning behind Carcosa and the Yellow King, but that’s just an aspect of the greater mood. Dark, eerie, ominous, rural Louisiana in Marty Hart and Rust Cohle’s world was a dark, run down, and dangerous place where the bad often outran the good.  What the show was at its heart, though was the story of two partners, of two men.

Yes, this show, as director Cary Fukunaga pointed out, doesn’t pass the Bechdel test. Its depiction of women was not particularly complex, and sure that’s a shame. But True Detective only had eight episodes to work with that’s simply not what True Detective was about. Not everything can be about everything. True Detective is about the relationship between Woody Harrelson’s Mary Hart and Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle. They may not be Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, but don’t be fooled: This is a bromance.

Break through the clutter ,and it’s the story about two men from opposite sides of the tracks. Rust is an intellectual, nihilism-inpsired cop, who believes that the human race is going to hell in a handbasket. There’s no hope for anyone, he surmises. Marty, on the other hand, is a relativist; he plays by his own rules, or tries to, his own rules which dictate that him sleeping around is the best thing for his family, because he needs to takes care of his dark impulses before coming home to hang out in a wholesome fashion with his daughters and wife. These points of view should be diametrically opposed, and they are, but the two men meet cute, find common ground and drift apart, only to come back together again after ten years without speaking.

There’s lots more reasons to love the show. The cinematography are direction are top notch and among, if not the best of TV. The one-shot from the end of season four is rightfully renowned, and the beautiful vistas of coastal Louisiana give the show a distinctive sense of place. I can count off memorable shots with ease; the terrifying, jock-strap wearing and gas-masked Reggie LeDoux from far away that ended the third episode, for example, or the baroque and angelically lit shot of Rust Cohle holding up a devil net in the school to end the fifth episode (the show has a lot of memorable episode ending shots).  There’s the fantastic choice of palate which contrasts the sharp present day with the blurrier past.

But again, that’s not the heart of the show, without which True Detective wouldn’t be what it was. The show ends the way it has to – or at least with the people it has to  – Marty, and Rust, together again – and that pairing is why we’re watching. Because in eight hours, we can’t know everything but we do get to know these characters and we grow to love them. They desperately both try to be good men, even Cohle, who claims otherwise. They don’t always succeed, and we certainly don’t have to feel bad for them; that’s the not the point. They’re not asking our sympathy. But they both try to do one good thing for they legacy, something that at least partially compensates for their failures if nothing else and that’s worth celebrating. Marty realizes why he lost his family; he stopped begging, and he’s right that he didn’t deserve them – but he tries – he tries in the only way he knows how. There’s a nobility to their pursuit, and something notable in that it takes the combined efforts of both Cohle and Hart to actually catch their killer. Maybe there’s something cheesy about an ending in which Cohle, relentlessly negative Cohle, actually sees a small sliver of light at the end of the tunnel, but to me that pleasant sentiment is well-earned – even someone as utterly heartless as myself occasionally enjoys a happy ending.

True Detective celebrates the ethereal, the philosophical higher plane, but it also celebrates the ground floor, the people and their earth-based, contentious relationships. The cult, the ritual, are what generation forum discussions, and with good reason: they’re a meaningful part of what True Detective is about. But if you just want that, you’re missing the point – this isn’t Lost. There’s no higher level questions that absolutely need to be solved to avoid a let down aside from who did some of the killings we’ve seen; this is eight episodes, not five seasons.

Rust Colhle and Marty Hart, two brilliantly developed, written, and acted characters developed over the course of eight episodes, I wouldn’t ask for anything more.

Spring 2014 Review: True Detective

20 Jan

Two true detectives

I didn’t know what to expect coming in, but I’ve long been a fan of the season-long anthology format for television and was excited about any show that starred  the long underrated Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey in the middle of his epic comeback. After actually watching the show, even those high expectations didn’t prepare me for how much I liked the debut episode.

True Detective is posed as a season long murder mystery, a format we’ve seen a few times in the last decade, but this isn’t your grandfather’s season long murder mystery. While it’s an obviously intriguing format (there’s a reason Agatha Christie sold so many books), I’ve been biased against it ever since the somehow still alive disaster known as The Killing broke me in the final two episodes of its first season (like thinking of the Lost finale, bringing up The Killing’s first season finale is the best way to instantly anger me). The Killing has made me come into any season-long murder mystery with a wary eye, perhaps unfairly, but there’s a part of me just waiting for a let down at every step. Broadchurch, a British season-long murder mystery being adapted for an American audience was a very pleasant surprise, surprising and satisfying without being ludicrous and over the top. It was, however, a fairly typical murder mystery, investigating all the players one by one, and everything that happened in the series pretty much revolved around the murder which took place in the first two minutes of the show.

True Detective is not that and it’s much the better for it. True Detective is a murder mystery, sure. There’s a murder at the beginning and presumably the show is going to take us through on the way to solving it. But it’s much more than that and only kind of about that.

The show is told through an interesting framing device. Two cops in 2012 are interviewing two ex-cops who thought they had solved a murder 17 years ago, in 1995, in rural Louisiana. As the two cops are interviewed separately, they each take us back, through their descriptions, into the past. Scenes of them taking to their interviewers in 2012 are interwoven with much longer scenes of their investigation in 1995, overlaid with narration, which is what they’re telling the interviewers. I’ve often complained about framing devices and narration that feels gimmicky, useless, cheap, and detrimental, but this is not that. This is a clever framing device that besides being plot relevant – it seems like events related to the murder will actually happen in 2012, rather than simply being a point from which to look back – presents interesting narrative opportunities. There are lots of unreliable narrator issues – the two cops, who we learn, haven’t spoken in ten years, remember the case and each other different, and have very different perspectives of the case and of each other. The ex-detectives, neither of whom work for the police anymore, have changed dramatically over the years.

The two primary detectives, as hinted at above, are played by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, with McConaughey marvelously playing against type. Woody Harrelson is the good old boy partner, just trying to do his job and fit in, while McConaughey is the loner, intellectual who isn’t from Louisiana to begin with and doesn’t really belong. Unlike other shows, which would portray the McConaughey character as a reclusive genius who is brilliant at his craft but can’t fit into society (See House, Bones, and well a billion other shows), McConaughey is just another detective. He’s certainly a good one; Harrelson, who resents McConaughey for a number of reasons, certainly acknowledges that much. But he’s no genius; when he does figure out important case information it’s because he works all night because he can’t sleep. Harrelson is no dummy either and he puts up an aura of just working the job but he certainly takes his job seriously enough as a professional. The 2012 interviewers bring McConaughey and Harrelson through the details of the 1995 case but also into seemingly irrelevant details about the detectives’ relationship and personal lives, including a dinner at Harrelson’s house where McConaughey shows up drunk.

That’s the thing about True Detective. It’s about the murder mystery and it isn’t. The two detectives didn’t get incredibly far along their path to solving the crime in the first episode and I didn’t really care. Their chemistry, the charge and interaction between the two partners keeps the show moving while they slowly get around to the actual case. The show often feels more like a rumination than a murder mystery, and while the focal point is supposedly the case, it sometimes seems to fade into the background for stretches of the show, hiding behind the interplay between the two detectives.

Will I watch it again? Yes, for sure. This gets a gold star for most promising, and seems like an instant must-watch, which only comes along a couple times a year. It’s the early favorite for best new show of the spring season.