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'True Detective': What's the verdict?

Photo from CNN
Friday, January 17, 2014 - 11:00am

It's hard to go wrong when your new show includes both Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, so HBO's "True Detective" was already off to a good start when it premiered on Sunday night.

The new crime drama is set in Louisiana across two time periods as detectives Rust Cohle (McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Harrelson) recount a years-long search for a serial killer.

McConaughey hasn't done a lot of TV work outside of "Eastbound & Down" appearances and a voiceover job, while Harrelson is returning to a small screen series for the first time since "Will & Grace."

Neither McConaughey nor Harrelson are lightweights -- in fact, while "True Detective" was having its bow, McConaughey was winning the best dramatic movie actor award at the Golden Globes -- and they both prove it with this new series.

McConaughey in particular, says The Huffington Post's Maureen Ryan, "has spent much of the last decade proving he's one of the best actors of his generation, appearing in a series of films that have allowed him to show his impressive range. McConaughey brings every bit of that skill, confidence and undeniable charisma to 'True Detective.'"

HitFix's Alan Sepinwall is already predicting that McConaughey will land every award tossed his way, "both because he is a Movie Star stooping to work in television, and because he is jaw-droppingly great. Even if nothing else about 'True Detective' worked — and so much of it works spectacularly — McConaughey would be worth the price of admission." To Sepinwall, "True Detective" is less about the serial killer as it is the detectives that McConaughey and Harrelson embody, and embody well.

While critics raved about McConaughey's performance, it wasn't because Harrelson's isn't as strong but rather because his part doesn't allow for the tricks McConaughey can pull with his.

"Harrelson and McConaughey are both at their best," says Variety. "Given the number of eccentrics the former has played, it’s also interesting to think about how the show would look if the roles were reversed, since either guy would be almost equally well suited to the other’s part."

The top-form acting is supported by "series creator and novelist Nic Pizzolatto, (who) undulates from effectively brash soliloquies to penetratingly nuanced moments carried by sparse prose," and from "director Cary Fukunaga has created a beautiful, sprawling sense of place," The Hollywood Reporter said in its review.

Pizzolatto and Fukunaga were there for each of the anthology series' eight episodes, giving "True Detective" a continuity in tone and voice that has been praised as progressive. Should this series get picked up for additional seasons, it would return with a new case and new faces.

But, if viewers feel similarly to Grantland's Andy Greenwald, we may not get that far. Although Greenwald appreciated the series' form "as truly radical and forward-thinking," in his eyes "the content is anything but. ... Perhaps you aren't yet exhausted, as I am, by American television's endless fascination with the tormented psyche of white men and/or serial killers. If so, you might be able to demonstrate more patience with True Detective than I've been able to muster."

Did you catch Sunday night's premiere episode? What did you think?

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