True Detective Debut Was Damn Good And Unique Format May Keep It That Way

When it comes to television, movies, and life in general, I loathe having my time wasted. Given my cynical and skeptical nature, avoiding a frothy abundance of mostly average content is largely achieved by avoiding almost all new television shows. Basically, why go on a lot of first dates when the quality as a whole is in question? If a show is good, you'll hear about it fairly early on and via iTunes, Hulu, On Demand, Netflix, Vudu, etc, you can arrive to any budding new show's cult following fashionably late but before the late arriving bandwagoners catch on.

But there are rare instances where this "code" of tepid enthusiasm and formal vetting is thrown to the wayside. From time to time, there are too many hard to ignore clues that something is potentially going to be amazing and perhaps it will be worth it to roll the dice very early on. Perhaps it's the track record of a director or a particular writer, early reviews from those who have similar tastes, or just subject matter itself.

When something piques my interest early on, to the point where I make the early decision to check it out, I follow another protocol of trying to avoid all buzz and possible spoilers because I want to go in as fresh and naive to the show/book/movie in question. Upon seeing the trailer for True Detective, the decision was made that HBO's newest one-hour drama would get this second treatment.

So for a bevy of reasons, as evidenced in the trailer above (style, cast, setting, genre, etc.), I dove in head first, not really knowing what to expect. When the smoke cleared, I found myself wowed in a way that very, very few shows have ever achieved — if any. Doing some follow-up research, I find myself wondering if True Detective's unique approach (and additionally very strong ratings) could potentially see the show join the elite pantheon of one-hour dramas that HBO, and now AMC, have pioneered — and perhaps sooner than later. Below, some thoughts as to why True Detective might just be worthy of an early crowning as an elite drama.

Unique Staffing Approach May Lead To Fewer Peaks And Valleys In Episode To Episode Quality

Ever go through an episode guide of one of your favorite shows, trying to get a broader picture of how seasons unfolded? What you'll notice is that almost every single popular show rotates the role of lead director and writer to a handful of different people. While this often can lead to a lot of diversity in style, it can also lead to a bit of variance in episode quality. 

Think of it this way. Your favorite MLB team has five starting pitchers. Each one of them is able to throw a gem of a game, but also a dud. You don't know what you're going to get on any given day. But some of your pitchers historically put out a better product than others and often there is some churn on the backend or perhaps even on the front end of the rotation when someone is so talented that you can't afford them.

Last year, I watched House Of Cards and found myself absolutely enthralled with the first two episodes. While I thought the rest of the season was pretty solid, there were moments and episodes where I came to the realization that maybe House Of Cards wasn't yet the one-hour amazing drama I was convinced it was after two episodes. 

Reviewing the episode guide gave a good clue as to the variance in the quality of episodes, as the first two were both directed by David Fincher and penned by Beau Williamson. While Williamson would write or co-write the majority of the remaining episodes, Fincher didn't direct another episode. That's just how it is.

Enter True Detective, where all eight episodes share the same writer (Nic Pizzolatto) AND the same director (Cary Fukunaga). Both are somewhat under the radar names. But knowing that there is cohesion and chemistry between the two, I think it's quite possible True Detective won't fall into the trap that a lot of good, but not great, shows fall into. They sag in certain places and often trot out a poorly constructed/executed episode from time to time.

Stories That Don't Drag Out

The other unique aspect to True Detective is that it is an anthology series, meaning it will be a new story every season. This is awesome on many levels that I'll get into, but first and foremost is that Pizzolatto won't have to spin his wheels dragging out a story for seasons until the network gives the green light to put the series to bed. He eluded to as much in a recent interview:

"One of the reasons I wanted to do an anthology format is I like stories with endings,” Pizzolatto said Thursday (Jan. 9). “I like a good third act. And continuing serial dramas, they tend to have really good beginnings and really long middles and then sort of have to hustle to develop an ending. And I like the idea of telling a self-contained story.

"It's an anthology series. There’s no red herrings in this show. I don't play games with my audience. I don't tell them something is one thing and then they find out it's not. No tricks up my sleeve. I want it to all be direct drama, and I want to have a beginning and a middle and an end, which we very definitely have throughout the series."

That's a problem with a lot of shows today. The more popular they get, the longer they run and the narratives have to be stretched out to a point where the quality is diluted. As noted, I don't want my time being wasted here. Let's not futz around too much and just tell the story at a pace that is optimal for the viewer and not the network executives. The first episode of True Detective moved at a great pace and I have to say the closing line of Matthew McConaughey's character saying "Then start asking the right fucking questions," had me quite giddy and left me yearning for more.

New Seasons, New casts, And New Settings

The knee jerk reaction upon learning that the anthology format will take us away from rural Louisiana and Woody Harrelson and McConaughey (who are both marvelous) is a bit deflating. The rural Louisiana setting has also been equally impressive and eerie, and I'm sure I will miss it as well although I likely won't have to rewind my DVR to pickup Cajun twang in the dialogue.

But think about the possibilities! Not just different places and different times, but the fact that you can attract talent like Harrelson and McConaughey because it's a finite commitment. Don't like the movie projects your agent is pitching you? I'd imagine True Detective being a great alternative for many tier-two movie stars, one that could lead to better projects and potentially awards as both Harrelson and McConaughey's performances have them on the award radar early.

Here's some insight from Pizzolatto into the pitch to get cinematic talent onto True Detective.

"I was interested in telling a story with a beginning, middle and an end and I was really, really wanting to work with serious cinematic talent and it seemed like the time was right for that because if an actor doesn’t want to play a super hero there are just not that many options in terms of films getting made. My thought was, if they only do one season we might be able to attract real cinematic talent, because the reason most movie stars don’t do television, even if it was extremely lucrative or high quality, is because most shows require you to sign on for four to six years. This would only be a five-month commitment so we could approach serious, great actors and say to them, ‘Don’t do five months of Broadway, come do True Detective."

I'll certainly miss Harrelson and McConaughey, but take a minute to think of the possibilities for two new detectives. Hell, it could be three lead characters next year — and with a female lead. It's like a slot machine. Kyle Chandler + Bruce Willis + Sandra Bullock = ? I mean, there is probably a very small pool of talent who wouldn't be in play and that's exciting. 

As for the settings, it's all about the execution and vision but given the cohesive writing and directing team, I also find the possibilities exciting, as does Pizzolatto.

"There could be a season that’s much more of a widespread conspiracy thriller, a season that’s a small town murder mystery, a season where nobody is murdered and it’s a master criminal versus a rogue detective or something,” he said. “Even the title, ‘True Detective,’ is meant to be, of course, purposefully somewhat generic. … The word ‘true’ can also mean honorable and authentic and things like that."

"I've got pretty good ideas for season two, and I know the actors I want to go after, at least some of them. It’ll be set in California. Our series is going to brand a couple of things — storytelling tropes (and) interrogations as narrative. Every season, it might not be a cop. It might be a private detective. It might be just a normal person. But they’re all noir stories, and have beginnings, middles and ends.

Whatever landscape we do shoot in, we’re going to own that place. I mean, it’ll never look the same after we’re done with it, because it will be an endemic part of the story, (and) informs the world the characters react to and how they react to it."

Other Reasons To Watch

— Midway through his interview with two modern day detectives (the majority of the story is retelling an event 17 years in the past), McConaughey's character asks for demands a six-pack of beer. He also later busts out a flask that he gets into in the closing minutes.

Basically McConaughey's character is going to get progressively drunker, darker and loose lipped as the season goes on. He'll be liquored up good by the last half of the season and that's exciting to me.

— The show requires your utmost attention as there are a lot of subtle clues and mentions that are clearly important. No Words With Friends or Snapchatting, as your full attention is required to get the most out of the show.

— Football season is ending and it doesn't overlap with Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire.

— It's creepy and oozing with mystery and intrigue. You really have no idea if the next minute is going to be a monumental development or just more story development. Basically, you're on your toes.

So there you have it. This is me pushing all in after only seeing one card. I never do this and maybe I'll look like an idiot, but I honestly think we're onto something great here. and I hope you'll join me for the rest of season one.

What were your thoughts from the show? What do you think of the anthology format? Chime in with your reactions in the comments.

Ben Koo

About Ben Koo

Copying and pasting my Twitter bio. I'm also refusing (for now) to write this in the third person. This is me - EIC and CEO at @comeback_sports and @AwfulAnnouncing, world's greatest chinese jew, proud Buckeye, funny dude, and sports and digital media zealot.