TV review: True Detective, Sky Atlantic (4 stars)

TV review: True Detective, Sky Atlantic

Ground-zero second series of gothic crime drama still packs a punch

How could True Detective’s second season ever recreate the magic of its debut? Well the truth is, inevitably, that it simply can’t. Which is not to say that the show isn’t still going to be one of the treats of 2015 when we finally reflect back on the small-screen year. The kicker is that almost everything (from theme tune to casting to storyline) is all a marginally pale imitation of its first anthology. Still jet black in tone (though a deep wood-brown seems to be the prevailing mood colour throughout the set), True Detective’s soundtrack is once again dominated by a pounding of doom-laden drums. The dread itself just feels a little less oppressive and apocalyptically scary as before.

Colin Farrell plays the haunted Ray Velcoro, a cop who is crumbling at the seams, with his son being relentlessly bullied at school while a messy divorce continues to have implications on his increasingly desperate life. Vince Vaughn is crooked entrepreneur Frank Semyon, left in the lurch by a business partner who is found horribly tortured and very dead, eyes ritualistically burned out. As well as Velcoro, the investigation is undertaken by Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) who has a sister running wild and a religious guru father who seems to care not a jot about his daughters, and Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch), a deathwish-infested motorcycle cop and ex-military who has been hung out to dry by his superiors one too many times.

While creator Nic Pizzolatto is still in place, the holy trinity of season’s one star duo Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson plus director Cary Fukunaga (his gloriously long single-take of a panic-ridden chase and shoot-out through the Louisiana projects is surely one of the most exciting scenes ever put onto the small screen) are sadly missing. Instead, we have a selection of directors. It’s clear from the opening episodes that the result is a slightly more formulaic cop show, bereft of the metaphysical chatter of McConaughey’s Rust Cohle and the world-weary belligerence of his partner, Harrelson’s Martin Hart.

Season one’s beauty was partly in feeding us snippets of clues and slowly carving out its mood, but number two seems to lay it on a little thicker: when Semyon insists that there are many competing, interlocking interests within our story, we cut to southern California’s spaghetti junction-style highways. And just in case we happen to forget that there is a convoluted web to be untangled, we get many more shots of busy traffic scenes shot from way above.

There are also times when the dialogue grasps for something meaningful, but lines such as ‘I welcome judgement’ and ‘Don’t look hungry; never do anything out of hunger, not even eating’ fall horribly flat in comparison to Cohle’s existentialist musings about psychospheres, crucifixions and time being a flat circle. And as uniformly excellent as the cast turns out to be, maybe none of them have that unique Matthew McConaughey-ness to deliver such ramblings? All of this seems like a damning indictment, yet the new True Detective is moody, brutal, intense, daring and addictive. But when placed up against near-perfection, it was always on a hiding to nothing.

True Detective starts on Sky Atlantic, Mon 22 Jun, 9pm

True Detective Season 2 Official Trailer