#true detective

Justin Williams on True Detective:

As I read up on the show I learned that the entire eight episode season was written by a sole writer (show creator Nic Pizzolatto) and directed by a single director (Cary Fukunaga). Traditionally TV shows are helmed by a cast of behind the scenes folks who take turns at writing and directing different episodes. With True Detective, a true auteur theory was allowed to play out on screen.

One writer. One director. Eight hours of the best television I’ve seen in a long time.

Great point, and I also don’t think that’s a coincidence. Sadly, it sounds like season 2 may not keep that exact formula — from Kate Aurthur’s sit down with Pizzolatto:

Aurthur: Do you imagine working with one director again, and plot aside, can you give us any hints about a changed aesthetic?

Pizzolatto: We don’t have any plans to work with one director again. It would be impossible to do this yearly as we need to be able to do post while we’re still filming, like any other show. There’s some great guys I’ve consulted, and we’re all confident we can achieve the same consistency. Going forward, I want the show’s aesthetic to remain determinedly naturalistic, with room for silences and vastness, and an emphasis on landscape and culture. And I hope a story that presents new characters in a new place with authenticity and resonance and an authorial voice consistent with this season. Dominant colors will change. South Louisiana was green and burnished gold.

The Cutting Up Of Content

Regular readers will know my fascination with True Detective. It’s not just that it’s a great television show; it’s great content, period. I think it stacks up against the best films in the genre that I’ve seen.1 And, in fact, in some ways it’s better because it’s essentially a seven hour film, broken up into more easily digestible pieces.

That last part is the key. True Detective as a seven hour film would be just as amazing as the television show is, but it would be very hard to watch. Attention spans aside, it’s hard to sit through anything for seven hours straight. The genius of True Detective is using the traditional television format of “episodes” to break up the content into easier-to-consume pieces. The sum of those parts is equal to — or perhaps even greater than — the whole if it were one continuous entity.

Of course, none of this is particularly new. But the difference in my mind is that the television content is now equalling — or even surpassing — that of film. House of Cards. Game of Thrones. Etc.2 These are like great films, cut up, and extended. The format isn’t new. But the end result is.

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On the topic of True Detective, the scene above is a good example of why the show is so amazing. It’s not really a spoiler, but I suggest you wait to watch it if you haven’t seen episode 3 already. Because it’s so much more effective in context.

Beyond Matthew McConaughey giving what is perhaps his best performance to date (including the film for which he’ll likely win an Oscar), the entire sequence is a great set up to the payoff. And it’s largely because of the score.

This is not uncommon in cinema, but I have a hard time remembering a television show that uses a score so effectively. This is Darren Aronofsky and Christopher Nolan territory. It’s absolutely haunting.

I like to debate which television shows have the best opening credit sequences from time to time. Currently, I love Downton Abbey and Game of Thrones — which are basically the opposite of one another. But I now have to throw True Detective into the mix as well.1

SO well done. Amazing song. Better visuals. I would watch the show just to watch this opening each week.


  1. Incidentally, by the same team that did the Game of Thrones opening.