Viewers poured in for the second season premiere of True Detective. The first season penned by Nic Pizzolatto and directed by Cary Fukanaga was a critical darling and smash hit for HBO. It revitalized Matthew McConaughey’s career and reminded people that Woody Harrelson is a good actor. When the end credits rolled on the season two premiere most were left discouraged. It’ll get better. That’s what we hoped, but now five episodes it’s obvious that HBO has failed to bottle lightning twice.
Part of this problem lies in the concept of anthology television itself. In anthology television each season is a new story. Each season has new characters, new arcs, and new mysteries. American Horror Story was the first in the recent fad, but has still suffered from lackluster seasons when compared to regular serialized TV. Fargo has joined the fold and is now airing promos for its second season, complete with a new cast. With two anthology shows being unable to live up to their freshman seasons, will Fargo succumb to the same sophomore slump?
Let’s take True Detective as a case study. It may seem unfair to judge a season before it’s over, but in comparison to the season before it’s certain that True Detective has downgraded. Season one was a passion project of writer Nic Pizzolatto. He pitched the series to HBO with the entire season already written. Cary Fukanaga jumped on board and directed every episode. The show had a signature look and feel, not to mention two stellar performances. In the space of a little over a year Pizzolatto was tasked with writing another complete season. Writer’s rooms are tasked with this all the time in the fast-paced world of serial TV, but most don’t have to build another story from the ground up each season. It’s just not enough time.
Instead of one director the second season of True Detective has seen the inclusion of many, all trying to make their mark. Whereas McConaughey and Harrelson had the ability to work with one director and his singular vision, Colin Farrell, Vince Vaughn, Rachel McAdams, and Taylor Kitsch haven’t had that opportunity. It shows. The show no longer has a distinct style and falls into the TV trap of replicating the shot and reverse-shot method ad nauseum.
It’s not that they aren’t trying, but they’re trying to emulate the wrong aspects of season one. The slow build from season one doesn’t work with strained acting and an uninteresting mystery. Each season had a shootout end their fourth episode. Season one featured a tense and nuanced long-take. Season two featured a loud and destructive gun battle that would fit right at home in any cheap action movie. The reason for the dip in quality may not be attributed to lack of talent, but the short time span in between seasons of TV.
If that has any effect, then Fargo may be doomed before it even begins. Fingers crossed that it doesn’t: Fargo was another critical darling. Is there still hope for True Detective? Probably not this season, but hopefully they give the pre-production phase the time it deserves in the future.
What are your thoughts on True Detective season two? Can anthology television be consecutively good? Let us know in the comments below.
Freelance writer and screenwriter living in Pittsburgh. Film buff, video game buff, and music buff, but not actually buff.