True Detective is back for round two on Sunday, June 21 following a critically acclaimed first season starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson.
In the new season of the anthology series, with each eight-episode installment linked by name only, creator Nic Pizzolatto expands the focus from two leads to four. Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Taylor Kitsch, and Vince Vaughn -- all in need of some of McConaughey’s career renaissance magic following individual film career fumbles -- step into Pizzolatto’s story about the miserable, brooding world of municipal corruption. (Who knew Pizzolatto would turn his attention to a high-speed monorail transportation deal?!)
Farrell plays Detective Ray Velcoro, a miserable, self-destructive man whose own backstory about his ex-wife and son is almost as brutal as the crimes he commits. Velcoro is a corrupt cop who has his hands in the pockets of the thuggish and unhappy Frank Semyon (Vaughn). (Seymon has his own family issues with his wife -- played by the sultry Kelly Reilly -- that may complicate his ability to focus on seeing the transportation deal through.)
On the other side of Los Angeles County is the hardened, knife-wielding Detective Ani Bezzerides (McAdams) with some serious daddy issues. Her backstory is the most L.A. of the four, having been raised by a new age guru and a sister doing Internet porn. Bezzerides has zero f**ks about everything and McAdams owns every moment of it. If there’s anyone who gets McConaughey’s magic touch, it’ll be her as she knifes any man that crosses her.
Kitsch rounds out the cast as Paul Woodrugh, a deeply sad California Highway Patrolman harboring dark secrets that are only hinted at in the first three episodes the media was allowed to see. Though, Kitsch offers the show’s sole sex appeal with a butt-baring moment in the first episode. (At least Pizzolatto got the memo about offering up some male nudity.)
While the transportation deal is at the core of the show’s interlocking character drama, it’s a murder of a local government official -- with a serious sex obsession -- that brings all four characters together. But don’t think they’ll all work happily together to find the killer. The cops quickly become distracted with agendas focused on thwarting the other’s efforts, which at times almost feels secondary to each of their own problems.
If you picked up on the running theme here, it's that all these people are sad, miserable, unhappy people. The characters are so heavy with thought, it’s any wonder if they know they live in the bright, sunny Los Angeles that always made Don Draper a tanned, happy clam on Mad Men.
Despite all the misery, the show is still captivating. The narrative is straightforward, leaving behind the dual and sometimes complicated timelines of last season. The characters are just interesting enough. The plot does for transportation policy what Chinatown did for water rights. And luckily, the show comes up to breathe long enough so that it doesn’t drown in its own sorrow.
Like Mad Men, it pushes the limits of patience when it comes to storytelling and likeability -- it's a race to determine who has it worst on True Detective -- but unlike the AMC series, it only has eight episodes to tell this story. The investment is short-lived. Perhaps knowing this, Pizzolatto delivers surprises and reveals within the first three episodes that will surely draw viewers back for the latter half of the season.
True Detective premieres on Sunday, June at 9 p.m. on HBO.