Has there ever been a show that was as beloved, and then reviled, as “True Detective”? Consider this: The series has aired two seasons, with the first one topping many “best of” lists for 2014 and the second frequently selected as the worst show of 2015. Now it’s 2016, and whether you love or hate the HBO series, you have to admit: That’s a heckuva range.
One more thing to consider: Think of your favorite show right now, and ask yourself: Is its batting average .500? Is it genuinely, breathtakingly amazing in half its episodes? If not, then right there is your reason for needing to give “True Detective” one last shot.
There’s some good news to follow-up on those thoughts: HBO president Casey Bloys tells the 2016 summer TCA press tour that he has every intention of making another season. “It is not dead,” he says. “I’ve talked to [creator and showrunner] Nic [Pizzolatto] about it, and I think both Nic and HBO are open to a third season … So, it’s not dead. Just, I’m not sure we have the right take for a third season yet.”
Perhaps, like the San Francisco Giants, every other year is a winner. Below, five ways that HBO and Pizzolatto can return “True Detective” to its former glory.
Find typecast actors — then let them act
The joy of Season 1, primarily, was watching Matthew McConaughey truly blossom as an actor. Coupled with the good fortune of releasing “Dallas Buyers Club” around the same time, here was a Hollywood veteran who had spent years playing the same “alright, alright, alright” slackers and romantic comedy beefcakes, finally being allowed to show us there was something powerful beneath those good looks.
Woody Harrelson was a bit further along in casting off the shackles of “Cheers,” “Kingpin” and other roles that amounted to every actor’s enemy: Expectations. But “True Detective” gave him a chance to build on movies like “Rampart” and “The Messenger” and take that image-twisting work to a larger stage.
It would be a lie to say that “True Detective” didn’t try to follow a similar blueprint for Season 2, casting Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell and letting them both play against type. But let’s be brutally honest here: Vaughn and Farrell aren’t McConaughey and Harrelson, and their lack of dramatic skills were not helped by off-the-wall dialogue they just couldn’t sell.
Take chances again
Look, we all know how hilarious it is to make fun of bad TV — and the GIFs, tweets and viral clips about Season 2 of “True Detective” were frequently more entertaining than the show itself. However, if you really think about it, when we share one of those we’re just shooting ourselves in the foot.
How many lazy sitcoms and by-the-book procedurals have we all sat through over the years, lamenting the fact that Hollywood has lost its originality? No matter how much you may have hated it, “True Detective” Season 2 took real chances — hiring unusual actors, employing highly-stylized dialogue, going for dark twists and turns, and even casting Rick Springfield of all people! Although we may sometimes hate the result, audiences need to do a better job of applauding and supporting the creative reach.
Please, Nic Pizzolatto and HBO, step out on that limb again and take the risk that it snaps. If you hadn’t done exactly that in Season 1, we never would have fallen in love with your show in the first place.
Make less change
We get it — it’s cool nowadays to make like “American Crime” or “American Horror Story” and change from season to season with new storylines, new stars and even new intros. But when you’ve created something as beloved and embraced as “True Detective” Season 1, you have to give your fans something to hold onto.
When Season 2 debuted, there was absolutely nothing tying it to Season 1 other than the name in the (completely different) opening credits over the (completely different) opening song introducing the (completely different) storyline. It was the TV equivalent of someone opening a store that became massively successful selling cookies, then one day decreeing that the only thing on the menu would be asparagus.
Go back to Season 1, watch what worked and let that inform your decisions a bit more. After all, it’s not plagiarism when you’re paying homage to yourself.
Find the yang
Much of Season 1 was based on the yin/yang relationship of Rust Cohle and Martin Hart. Similarly, the behind-the-scenes dynamic was a perfect counterbalance, with Pizzolatto’s highly-literate, nihilistic worldview tempered by Cary Fukunaga’s electric camera work and eye for beauty amongst the beasts.
For Season 2, Fukunaga stepped down as director and had his role severely limited, leading some to believe that Pizzolatto’s unchecked influence overwhelmed the show. John Lennon was an unqualified genius, but it was Paul McCartney who kept him accessible to the masses; Joe Strummer was brilliant, but it was Mick Jones who took him beyond rockabilly.
If Season 3 is to succeed, Pizzolatto needs to once again find the yang to his yin. Whether it’s Fukunaga or someone with similar skills, scripts can only get the show so far. Remember how exciting it was the first time you saw the shot below? “True Detective” fans want that feeling again.
Season 1 was heavy, tackling everything from serial killers to the existence of God itself. But what made it so enjoyable was big tense moments followed by the slightest bit of relief in a joke or shared moment between Rust and Marty.
Season 2 may have attempted such moments at levity (seriously, could Vince Vaughn’s hallucinatory walk through the desert have been anything else?), but they didn’t land. Even in the darkest moments of human history, people have reached for humor as a defense — there’s no reason to hide from it. Give Season 3 the proper mix, and watch the magic return.