Guess what? No spoilers ahead! How do you like them apples? Feel free to have seen absolutely none of True Detective and have absolutely nothing about True Detective spoiled for you. Except the protagonists’ names. Sorry.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the films and shows that first really clicked with me as a young(er) adult. The movies I watched in high school that opened my mind to just how much a movie could achieve. I suspect everyone has a list of entertainment that meets that criteria, and I suspect a lot of our lists have a lot of the same things on them. Entertainment that raises the bar for entertainment, or morphs it entirely. Things that capture the zeitgeist in such a way as to constantly appear on a towering, sometimes pretentious, pedestal above the uninitiated.
When I was in high school many of my peers put the works of Quentin Tarantino and Darren Aronofsky on that pedestal. When I was in college it seemed perpetually occupied by The Wire. For me that first work that blew the lid off of what I knew movies to be was No Country for Old Men.
There isn’t a right answer, to be certain, but there are definitely movies and shows that seem to hold that place for people more than others, and I suspect there is a new member of that pantheon.
If I were in high school today I suspect the hushed discussions during geometry class would be exclusively about True Detective.
The eight-part HBO mini-series, which now seems poised to be the first season in an anthology series that changes stories and characters year to year, ended last night after stirring up no small amount of discussion and speculation for the past two months. And rightfully so.
True Detective perpetually presented new ideas or reframed old ones. It’s very much a study of tradition cinematic masculinity, yet it tilts the concept just enough to the left to allow for an honest examination of that masculinity’s associated tropes and pitfalls. Similarly it’s very much a cop drama and yet its ambitious storytelling sensibilities differentiate it entirely from the likes of Law & Order and other traditional procedurals.
For all the familiar ground it treads in terms of detectives and investigation the nuance in True Detective is unlike anything else. Whether it’s a gaze into space, a tracking shot or mumbled existentialism the show never remained complaisant in its titular genre.
And why would it have?
True Detective was set up as a mini-series. Eight episodes. In and out. A story to tell from beginning to end within a predetermined span of time. It could pace itself accordingly, dulling out questions and answers at its own pace rather than having to worry about retaining momentum for an inestimable number of future episodes in an unknown number of future seasons.
Part of what makes True Detective so fantastic is that it’s self-contained.
Season one of True Detective is over in every sense of the word. The characters are done. The story is done. It was all extremely finite and all the more precious for it.
Here’s hoping the entertainment industry takes notice.
Are you excited for Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Did you see the first Captain America? What about the seven other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Did you read any of the graphic novels? Do you keep up with the comic?
What about The Walking Dead? Do you keep up with that comic? Are you caught up on Season Four? What about All-Out War? Have you played the video game yet? Are you read for the spin-off?
True Detective is eight hour-long episodes of television.
Sure it was influenced by various texts you could check out for your own curiosity, but when you have watched the first eight episodes of True Detective, you have watched True Detective. There are no tie-ins, there is no source material, there is just a single, stand-alone story about Rust Cohle and Marty Hart, two characters we’ve never seen before and will never see again.
True Detective is the antithesis of geek-culture’s mythology-heavy stronghold on entertainment. And I love it for that.
If True Detective is the piece of fiction that heightens my kids perception of what film and art are capable of I’ll be thrilled for them. And appalled that my kids are watching such wildly inappropriate television.
Is there a television show or movie that changed the way you view entertainment?
Is it the 1999 romp Deep Blue Sea?