Everyone has one, a present DVD they’ve been given, Christmas or perhaps a birthday, accompanied by the words “I saw this and I think you’ll love it”. You’ll look at it and think, “maybe, at some point”, when the diary is clear, when Netflix has been completed, when I’ve reached my goals, I’m somewhere and someone and, possibly, when hell freezes over. Then you watch it, cynicism ready to pounce, to leap, rip their misguided opinions to shreds and come out, as you always expected, a maverick, a lone wolf, with eclectic tastes, unique tastes, minority tastes.
The problem is, however, that some, if not most of the time, people can be incredibly right and you can find yourself drawn into something, absorbed to a point where you think about it to the detriment of everything else. That is the position I found myself in after watching True Detective.
The first two, maybe three episodes are slow, and at an hour each it can be a sufficient barrier to prevent some from getting any further. But bare with it. Please. The format, part confession, part storytelling, is intense, tension laden, there is drama bubbling under the surface but, it never quite arrives, it’s a huge amount of foreplay, an epic, sore-inducing amount. HBO series have been incredible for a while, but whereas previous offerings had more traditional structures, building in each episodes to climaxes, True Detective, painstakingly builds characters, four characters in reality, two cops in the past and in their present. The contrast between these different lives and the snaking paths that took them their providing the perfect amount of dramatic tension and atmosphere to sustain interest. It pays off, as we reach episode three onwards, that ground work takes effect, locks you in, and starts driving the narrative towards the ending which is epic in vision, writing, sentiment and pathos.
Woody Harrelson plays Louisiana homicide detective Marty Hart alongside police partner Matthew McConaughey’s Rust Cohle. Harrelson’s performance is superb, underplayed nuance, subtly and moments where you find yourself holding your breath in anticipation. His character is bold, strong, forthright and traditional. I think it’s a sign of a true great when you watch something and you a) can’t imagine anyone else playing the role and b) can’t imagine the actor themselves playing anything else, such is the strength of performance. McConaughey however, is beyond superlatives. As Rust he creates a fire within the core of the show, a burning, sizzling, arrogance and disconnect which contrasts perfectly with his partner but also at odds with the world and the role we recognise as that of a hero or lead. The physical transformation is astonishing, the delivery of a beautifully crafted script perfect.
When I think about the great series I’ve really enjoyed I think of The West Wing, House Of Cards, Fargo, Exile, and, I would argue that this is as good. It is, probably the most arresting series I’ve seen. As I sat in bed I could feel my heartbeat raise, hands grip, breathing slow, as if conducted by the writer (Nic Pizzolatto) and director (Cary Joji Fukunaga), I felt fear for the characters and anger at their transgressions. As I write this now, coming down from an adrenaline high, a tension hangover, all I want to say is, I saw this and I think you’ll love it.