Southern Gothic TV Hour: True Detective

truedetective3Let it be known that I am not a cheerleader for television.  It doesn’t get me excited.  I’ll occasionally find an episode of South Park deserving of praise, but other than that, the well-written, well-acted, well-produced shows that everybody rants and raves about do not get the blood pumping for me.  In fact, the crazed and never ending over-hype usually turns me off of loved programs regardless of how good they are.  Nothing ruins a piece of episodic entertainment for me more than people who won’t shut up about it.  Your adulation is nothing more than white noise to me.  I ignore it.

I’m not exactly sure when I jumped off the TV train.  I grew up watching all manner of television program, both great and awful.  The first nine or ten seasons of The Simpsons alone are some of the primary building blocks of my sense of humor.  If you want to challenge me to some Saved by the Bell trivia, I’ll mop the floor with you.  TV was everywhere.

And then it wasn’t.

The changing landscape of television is probably a big reason for my current disinterest.  So many channels have become a pop culture wasteland, a dead zone of rerun marathons, scripted reality, and murder porn.  Screaming heads, sycophants, and assholes.  I can’t watch it without feeling sick to my stomach at the state of things.  Time is another reason.  With a job, a family, and a thousand other interests and hobbies, I just can’t sit myself down to watch something that I have to devote that much attention to…even with a DVR.  The show may very well be amazing, but there is no way that I am ever going to sit still long enough to endure 100 episodes.  50 episodes.  Hell, even 13 are a stretch for me sometimes.  I would rather be doing almost anything else.

So who knows anyway?  I’m just not a TV guy.  Maybe I should blame Lost.   Those guys got me hooked for years…and then never went anywhere with anything.  I was so underwhelmed by that series’ end that I haven’t wanted to get into anything since.  Yes sir, just B-movies, books, comics, and pop music for me, thank you very much.

truedetective1All that being said, it appears that I’m back in the game.  I have become completely enthralled by HBO’s True Detective and the whirlwind of excitement around it.  The last six weeks have seen a tidal wave of hype, praise, criticism, and even fan art crowd and clutter the internet as well as my brain.  And though my TV leeriness initially held me back for the first couple of episodes, I succumbed after seeing some of said fan art, lovely posters that were made for Mondo Tees.  Interest piqued.  A southern Gothic murder mystery starring two Texan actors consistently turning in some of the best work of their careers?  Imagery and references to a 120-year old collection of stories and tales that influenced writers like H.P. Lovecraft?  Only an 8-episode story arch?  An intense, 7-minute tracking shot?  Sign me up.  At last, something I have the time and wherewithal to get behind.

So where to even begin?  First off, I’m not a reviewer.  I’m not a critic.  If I’m writing or talking about something, then it’s apparent that I’m already a fan, already in the pro column of this piece of art, entertainment, or pop culture.  I’m not here to grade anything, just to express my favor.  True Detective is the first program to excite me in a long, long time.

Here is as spoiler-free a recap as I can think of: Mathew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson play homicide detectives Rustin Cohle and Martin Hart, two of Louisiana’s finest investigating a grisly, ritualistic murder.  The duo’s search for the killer produces a twisted and eccentric cast of characters and suspects hailing from every echelon of society, uneducated, drug-rattled swamp people, sweaty, praying evangelicals, religious and political con men, hookers, bikers, and other lost souls.  Spanning 17 years, the dense and brooding tale slow burns, revealing conspiracy theories, mysterious connections, and red herrings, all the while Cohle further losing himself to his metaphysical philosophy and worldview and Hart gradually becoming more and more unhinged.  Add in some touches of the surreal, some drug visions, and some references to The King in Yellow, Robert W. Chambers’ 1895 tome of short horror stories, and you’ve got a captivating murder mystery just beckoning you further down the rabbit hole.

TV murder hasn’t been this engaging or fun since Laura Palmer.

truedetective4I guess the story wouldn’t really mean anything if the show wasn’t so well put together.  Writer/creator Nic Pizzolatto and director Cary Fukunaga have a juggernaut on their hands.  Everything from the writing, to the direction, to the cinematography, to the performances of every actor and actress on screen are so wonderfully crafted, that it’s damn near impossible not to get sucked in to it all.  And the slew of articles and opinions about the show only add to the allure.  Fan theories and speculation as to the identity of the murderer (or murderers?), “The Yellow King,” are proving to be almost as entertaining as the actual show.  And they’re everywhere.  Just google search True Detective and read the medley of ideas out there from the well thought and insightful to the certifiably insane.  Then take a look at some of the excellent fan-made art and posters beginning to circulate.  There’s some really cool stuff out there.  Then read the criticism, the claims of misogyny (that are not necessarily unfounded), the fear that it will all end too neatly and conveniently tied together.  Then watch that aforementioned, brilliantly performed tracking shot.  Then get obsessed with the darkness before it all comes to a conclusion in two more episodes.

Man, I am a cheerleader.

But I guess, there you have it.  I am become the uber-fan.  The nerd.  The crazed and fervent devotee garnishing praise to the annoyance of my old self.  But I’m caught in the tide.  I’m immersed in the puzzle.  I’m lost in the dark, sticky swamp.  My eyes are open taking in every subtle hint, every clue, every piece of symbolism, the dangerous men getting ever so closer to the door.

Dread hangs over everything.  It will not end well.


Thomas H Williams

Thomas H Williams

From a bunker somewhere in Central Texas, Thomas H. Williams spends most of his time with his wife, his two sons, and his increasingly neurotic dog. He listens to a lot of music, drinks a lot of excellent beers, and gets out from time to time. For even more shenanigans, visit

2 Responses to Southern Gothic TV Hour: True Detective
  1. Shawn C. Baker Reply

    “So many channels have become a pop culture wasteland, a dead zone of rerun marathons, scripted reality, and murder porn. Screaming heads, sycophants, and assholes. I can’t watch it without feeling sick to my stomach at the state of things.” – well said. I literally get sick when a tv is on something other than the few series I have come to feel are cinematic in scope or literature-filmed for serial. Sick. Commercials, kadashimans, “reality”tv – all of it. Funny, they call it television “programming”. They tell you right up front, they’re programming you, and the words themselves provide the illusion. Total dark Magick in my opinion.

    I did not let myself read this when you originally published it because I hadn’t seen the series yet. You did a great job of staying “spoiler free” but I like to know as little as possible. Last weekend my wife and I binged the series, four one night, four the next.

    Wow Bob Wow

    That fourth episode… man! That’s a doozy.

    Anyway, you may be interested in the podcast I listened to this week that was released after every episode. The Fuzzy Typewriter – pretty great analysis on every episode of this wonderful show.

    Oh, and the reason why this circumnavigated your dislike of tv? You probably know this by now, but it was written as a 455 page film, and with the consistency of the same writer/director for the entirety it definitely plays way more like an 8 hour film than a “show”. On one of his podcasts recently Bret Easton Ellis called True Detective season 1 the “dissolving bridge between tv and film” and I personally think he nailed that. We are going to see more ‘series’ like this, and our world is all the better for it.

    And from one tv-alergican to another, when you find yourself curious and with some time – which I know is not often – give Breaking Bad a shot. It’s fantastic. I don’t watch much tv either, though admittedly more of these ‘premium’ shows now than ever before (Justified and I have a soft spot for Six Feet Under, Deadwood and the Sopranos) but I really thought Breaking Bad was the first instance of something that grew to be a cultural phenomenon that totally deserved it. Watching it turn into the watercooler juggernaut that it did bugged me a little because I’ll always retain a bit of that “I was into that band before you were” mentality, but it really did deserve all the praise.

    Great article.

  2. [...] attempts by those Godless, whore-mongering, smut pedlars at HBO, to debase the genre with real actors a...

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