True Detective Is Not a Special Snowflake

I don’t think True Detective is the best show on TV as The Atlantic‘s Christopher Orr does. For a start, it’s only halfway through its season and like most shows it has its share of flaws — the endless cavalcade of impermeable Matthew McMonologues, for a start, which are well-acted and poetic but a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing, or precious little. As a device, it’s already repetitive. I’d point to shows like Hannibal and Rectify which can do that kind of thing better in terms of presenting a cohesive whole with seamlessly integrated visual and dialogic poetics. Also, as others have pointed out, its being mired so heavily in its hyper-masculine male point-of-view leading to almost total marginalisation of female characters is a worrisome drawback (I’m already getting my hopes WAY up for Pizzolatto to stock the show with character actresses in its next iteration instead), if only because favouring that point-of-view is still indulging it. Similar arguments were made about The Wolf of Wall Street, but I think that does it a bit better.

Anyway, that’s my two cents on the show, which I still think is good, perhaps very good, and on a technical level it’s phenomenal (Adam Arkapaw is a bit of a genius; you should check out the films he’s shot, including Lore and Snowtown, a.k.a The Snowtown Murders).

BUT: can the people writing about this show quit it with the “finally a director gets to direct!” nonsense? It’s belittling to all the phenomenal work done by for-hire TV directors like Lesli Linka Glatter, Michelle McLaren, Jennifer Getzinger, Michael Apted, Michael Rymer, and John Dahl, to name but a few. Just because they’re working within a ‘house style’ doesn’t diminish their abilities. Just because Cary Joji Fukunaga directs every episode here doesn’t make him necessarily a better director, or this show necessarily better than others as a result. It’s a silly critical fallacy. There are any number of TV episodes directed just as well, and better, than any in True Detective. Is an impressive, flashy tracking shot really all it takes to get people to froth this much? I mean, if this is the only show that you wish you could watch in a cinema, as Orr states, I’d politely suggest that you both a) don’t watch enough TV, and b) are far too slobberingly playing the “cinema and television are at war” card, a dichotomy which is really not so concrete or definable. Beyond that, I’m very much unconvinced that that setpiece would have been less tense and immersive with a handful of edits tying it together, or even a ton of edits. Homeland has found plenty of ways to be hugely tense without tracking shots, as has The Americans. And generally speaking, their tense setpieces play into the show’s wider narrative in a far less frustratingly oblique manner.

Anyway, nowhere does the author suggest how exactly any of this is leading to a new form of storytelling in any way. I don’t see how this series is telling a story in any more cohesive and unified a way as any other dramas with great first seasons, and how is certainly not argued here. It’s still a story about two men investigating a serial killer and facing their own demons in the process. It’s really not all that fresh; Twin Peaks, anyone?

And beyond that, it’s not like this is the first show to be written entirely by one writer (the inestimable Adam Reed writes every episode of Archer, for example, and miniseries are regularly directed by just one person, such as Todd Haynes’ Mildred Pierce; to a lesser extent, every episode of Mad Men passes through Matthew Weiner’s hands before it goes into production). For all I know I’ll be eating my words come the end of this first season, but as it stands, can y’all just cool your jets a bit? Also, we really should consider the idea that maybe the best show on TV isn’t a portentous, crime-ridden drama. It’s not that people shouldn’t be saying True Detective is brilliant, it’s just that the way it’s being said is focusing on the wrong things.

[this post has been repurposed from the comment I left beneath the piece this is a vague response to]