Glenn Garvin TV Reviews

True Detective Returns with a New, Dark Story

Subsequent comic relief available from HBO's new The Brink.

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"True Detective," HBO

Upon learning that her ex-husband has punished a kid who's been bullying their son by beating his father senseless in front of the boy and issuing a truly breathtaking threat involving sodomy with a headless corpse, a character in HBO's True Detective reaches a profound conclusion: "You're a bad person."

This is a verdict that could be rendered on nearly everybody in the second season of the video noir True Detective, which debuts Sunday with a completely new setting and cast of characters. The good guys are bitter, emotionally blighted, morally untracked brutes. The bad guys–well, don't ask. If the first season was about two detectives seeking redemption for bad police work and personal betrayal, the new one is about a trio of cops searching for signs that they even belong to the human race.

They include Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell), a detective in the perfidiously corrupt police force of a decaying Southern California industrial city called Vinci, whose perpetual drunkenness and unfathomable crookedess have wrecked his marriage and driven away his son. The eremitic Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams), a sheriff's deputy in nearby Ventura County, is the final survivor of a New Age do-what-you-will family whose other members have drifted into jail or suicide. And remote CHP motorcycle cop Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch, memorable as a sullen young high school fullback in Friday Night Lights) closely guards a secret from his military service in Iraq.

The three, each with a long trail of domestic wreckage and professional anomie, are tossed together in a makeshift task force necessitated by the odd circumstances surrounding the murder of the city manager of Vinci. The murder is so obviously linked to official malfeasance that Velcoro asks his bosses: "Am I supposed to solve this or not?" And the answer is abundantly unclear, with each police agency trying to pin something on the others as they all pursue hidden agendas. As the cops begin to realize that they're all potentially sacrificial pawns, they draw together in spite of their misanthropy.

True Detective is television's most purely auteur production, conceived and almost entirely written by novelist Nic Pizzolatto (who also did a brief turn on another noir crime series, AMC's The Killing.) Its second season, no less than its first, is a vehicle for his peculiar worldview, a murky stew of nihilism (at Velcoro's favorite bar, the nightly entertainment is an atonal burnout whose lyrics run along the lines of "this is my least favorite life") and zen morality ("my strong suspicion is, we get the world we deserve," observes Velcoro at one particularly bleak moment).

Pizzolatto's writing is not without its irritations, particularly his dialogue. It ping-pongs between baroque–"Dualities must be affected to serve the public interest," says a senior police officer by way of explaining the investigation has to be tanked–to what might be called existentially minimalist, full of cryptic grunts, portentous silences, and unanswered questions.

Coupled with the relentless desolation of Pizzolatto's zeitgeist, it can sometimes make watching True Detective feel like a bit of chore. Ultimately, the characters are too fascinating to turn loose of–particularly Farrell's explosive Velcoro and his political godfather Frank Semyon, a gangster whose attempt to leave the bare-knuckle stuff behind for a big score as a developer is threatened by the murder investigation.

Nicely played by in an unexpected dramatic turn by erstwhile comic actor Vince Vaughn, Semyon is an epic portrait of rage and despair as he sees a lifetime of earnest criminality being swept away by a collection of failed cops too dim to comprehend they've been selected for their incompetence. Lying in bed on yet another sleepless night, Semyon spots a leak in his new ceiling and sees it as a metaphor for his entire sketchy existence: "It's all papier-mâché." And in True Detective, a hard rain is always about to fall.

If you're feeling bummed after True Detective (and if you're not, you probably belong on a TSA watch list), you can find comic relief of a sort with The Brink, another HBO premiere the same night. A cross between Dr. Strangelove and Showtime's spy thriller Homeland, it stars Tim Robbins as a priapic secretary of state caught between his desire to save the world from a nuclear crisis in Pakistan and his fervent wish to bone Asian hookers. "This job sucks ass," he complains to an aide. "I should have asked for Interior. No one's gonna take you away from a hooker in the middle of the night to save Mount Rushmore."

Robbins' accidental allies in his attempt to defuse the crisis are Jack Black as a party-boy junior diplomat in Islamabad and Pablo Schreiber (Orange Is The New Black) as an opiate-addled Navy pilot on an aircraft carrier in the Red Sea. Hijinx ensue, from an accidential missile attack to, well, who knows. The manic Brink can be exhausting and overbroad, but it also has moments that are acutely, if childishly, funny, as when a meeting in the White House situation room erupts in a long round of "Fuck you! No, fuck you!" between the secretaries of state and defense, capped by the inevitable, "Well, he started it!" when a glaring president intervenes. And if you contemplate the current arguments in Washington over whether to bomb Syria or Iran, or Syria and Iran, The Brink can also seem like chilling neorealism.

True Detective.  HBO. Sunday, June 21. 9 p.m

The Brink. HBO. Sunday, June 21. 10:30 p.m.

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  1. “This is a verdict that could be rendered on nearly everybody in the second season of the video noir True Detective, which debuts Sunday with a completely new setting and cast of characters. The good guys are bitter, emotionally blighted, morally untracked brutes. The bad guys?well, don’t ask. If the first season was about two detectives seeking redemption for bad police work and personal betrayal, the new one is about a trio of cops searching for signs that they even belong to the human race.”

    I’m going to watch the hell out of this.

    1. I second this for sure. The anthology structure leads itself to great performances and fantastic storytelling. I loved Fargo last year and I am excited for this year’s version as well.

      1. Careful with the Fargo references. Wood******** and all.

    2. It’s going to be hard to top the first season. That was SO good.

    3. The good guys are bitter, emotionally blighted, morally untracked brutes. The bad guys?well, don’t ask.

      So, just like reason commenters then?

    4. I’m so excited.

  2. Let’s make bets about how many comments will be about Alex Daddario’s assets…go.

    1. They should make it so that the only recurring character is a naked Daddario.

    2. JEAAAAAAAAAAALOUS!

    3. Alexandra Daddario and Kate Upton in the same movie?!

      I also re-watched Texas Chainsaw 3D the other day. My god, she’s gorgeous even when she doesn’t take it all off. Those eyes! Those abs!

      [drools]

      1. No. she has no abs.she has no hips. she has no bootay.

    4. We’re talking about her eyes, right?

      Those gorgeous, Disney-sized blue eyes?

    5. Eh, I do not see why guys are into her.

      1. I’m with you Crusty. Plus, have you heard her speak?

  3. Wasn’t Nic Pizzolatto accused of plagiarizing at least some of the first season? Never heard if it’s a court case or if he owned up to it….or if it’s a bad rap?

    And yeah, that zen morality BS dialogue was thick in Season 1. Still watch it, but Brink looks more fun, and realistic.

    1. He was accused of plagiarizing the great horror writer Thomas Ligotti, but the accusations always rang hollow. Basically, his dialogue is very similar to quotes from Ligotti, but the overall story is a detective story and has nothing to do with the type of surreal horror stories Ligotti writes.

      Essentially, Pizzolato used Ligotti’s nihilistic philosophy (particularly from a book called The Conspiracy Against the Human Race) and based Rust Cohle on those ideas, so Rust had a lot of quotes that were very similar to quotes from Conspiracy. It’s ludicrous to say Pizzolato plagiarized in any legitimate fashion though.

      And Pizzolato outright acknowledged his debt to Ligotti in interviews about True Detective and specifically mentioned The Conspiracy Against the Human Race. So he used ideas from the book and gave attribution, which doesn’t exactly strike me as plagiarism. There was no court case because Ligotti didn’t give a shit and the hullabaloo came from Ligotti’s fans rather than Ligotti himself.

      1. He practically advertised the book.

  4. the new one is about a trio of cops searching for signs that they even belong to the human race

    Wow – I need more Art Imitates Life in my life.

  5. I can’t wait to see what new adventures Harrelson and McConaughey’s characters get into this season.

    1. I hear they investigate an online fantasy football gambling ring involving prominent members of the Cleveland Browns.

      1. and then one of them goes on to work at a bar in boston…

  6. Also, I’ll bet that Velcoro’s the only character that STICKS.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

    Never seen either one. Maybe I”ll watch. Sounds….depressing…

    1. Yup, this Mr. Semyon character sounds like a generic dumb ape.

  7. True Detective is television’s most purely auteur production, conceived and almost entirely written by novelist Nic Pizzolatto (who also did a brief turn on another noir crime series, AMC’s The Killing.)

    I’m actually glad I wasn’t aware of this fact before True Detective season 1, because if I had been, I might not have bothered watching it. The Killing sucked.

  8. holy f that’s Rachel McAdams?!

  9. The curse of Colin Ferrell strikes again.

    1. I’d rather see him doing stuff like this than pointless remakes like Total Recall and Fright Night.

      He was pretty funny in Horrible Bosses.

    2. You mean the curse where Colin Farrell is awesome and you refuse to acknowledge his brilliance because you’re too busy calling me a teddy bear?

      1. he’s only been awesome in “In Bruge”

        1. Tigerland is a pretty good movie, from what I can remember. SWAT is good for that hungover on a saturday watching fx or tnt sort of movie, while not nearly as good as In Bruges, Seven Pyschopaths is pretty damn good.

      2. In my defense, I can multi-task and refute your claim of his “brilliance” and call you a stuffed sex toy at the same time.

  10. .. it stars Tim Robbins..

    No.

    1. No Tim Robbins, no Colin Farrell…sheesh…how can a lady not like Shawshank?

      1. I’ve never recovered from seeing his ass in Bull Durham.

        Just no.

        1. I believe you get a glimpse of his schvantz The Player, just to warn you.

          1. *takes notes: avoid The Player.*

  11. True Detective is television’s most purely auteur production, conceived and almost entirely written by novelist Nic Pizzolatto (who also did a brief turn on another noir crime series, AMC’s The Killing.)

    Ahem. Just about every episode of Louie is written, directed and edited by Louis CK, with minimal input from FX. And I think that McConaughey and Harrelson had a fair amount of input last year, as did Cary Fukunaga as director. It wouldn’t surprise me if HBO gave Pizzolatto more autonomy this year, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the show suffers as a result.

    I hope The Brink doesn’t disappoint.

    1. It is going to be hard to top Veep in the world of comedic political satire.

    2. Yeah, I think both stars had producer credits, and Fukunaga had a large stamp on the work.

    3. oh, and Louie is, most definitely, THE singular vision on TV.

  12. If I watched anything on TV this would be it if nothing else just to support Vince Vaughn who wasn’t to scared to step up and endorse Dr. Ron Paul.

    1. “too” scared

  13. “This job sucks ass,” he complains to an aide. “I should have asked for Interior. No one’s gonna take you away from a hooker in the middle of the night to save Mount Rushmore.”

    That’s some extraordinary derp right there. Sounds like the only premium-cable show that might actually out-stupid Boss.

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  15. Excellent episode, BUT needs more wood chipper.

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  17. Matthew mcghounhey was captivating in true detective season 1.

    I’m not going to judge this season based on one episode but I’ll def give that episode a C-. There was too much time spent on aerial views of the city could have used that time for some character building. Made me feel like I was playing GTA the way they constantly did that when transitioning to a new character. Also I want so badly to enjoy Vince vaughns acting just becuase he speaks out about the drug war, but he really wasn’t great at all in this first episode. As for Colin farel he’s one of the shittiest actors in Hollywood but hey anybody can play an angry drunk. Rachel mcadams character was the only one with some true depth displayed, willing to abuse her power, passing moral judgement… Etc. I’ll continue to watch but I’m not going to have high expectations.

  18. Can someone elaborate on “Dualities must be affected to serve the public interest?”

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