For most of its history, television has lived in the afterglow of the movies. Writers churned out stories from anonymous writers' rooms; directors crunched their visions into a mechanized house style, and even TV stars were forgettable fill-ins for the real thing.
But as TV has matured and expanded beyond three networks, so have its cinematic ambitions. Top-tier Hollywood directors such as David Fincher and Martin Scorsese have produced series that have attracted increasingly high-profile acting talent.
No series better captures modern TV's grand ambitions than HBO's True Detective, a murder mystery set across the last two decades in the bayous of Louisiana. Each episode was fully written by the show's creator, Nic Pizzolatto, and shot by the same director, Cary Fukunaga. Hollywood stars Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey play the lead detectives. The show is gorgeous, gripping, smart, and weighty – everything critics moaned television could never be. -Peter Suderman