HBO is lining up a bunch of very talented people for the return of ‘True Detective.’
Earlier this week, I ran a poll on Twitter comparing Season 7 of Game of Thrones to the second season of True Detective. At first glance, the shows bear very little in common. Game of Thrones is a mixture of historical fiction and high fantasy with a central storyline that spans generations; True Detective is an anthology television series that barely maintains its central themes between seasons. In fact, the only thing the two shows truly have in common is their reception with audiences: despite a handful of crowd-pleasing moments, Game of Thrones Season 7 and True Detective Season 2 will go down as two of the most disappointing seasons in HBO’s long and storied history.
And while I may have some serious misgivings about the most recent season of Game of Thrones – misgivings I’ve angrily detailed in this space in recent weeks – even I wasn’t particularly surprised by the results. When asked which season they like more, a whopping 79% of my followers sided with the adventures of Jon Snow, Tactical Genius, over Nic Pizzolatto’s metaphysical crime drama. This is despite each season being a very specific type of disappointment for its fans. For True Detective fans, Pizzolatto’s expedited turnaround caused the storyline to feel half-baked; no matter how many interesting character beats and plot points Pizzolatto introduced, the choppiness of the narrative would pull fans out. And then there was Game of Thrones, which punted on nuance to deliver expensive fan-service moments six years in the making. Who cares if Petyr Baelish deserved better, right? It sure was cool to watch those dragons blow shit up!
To argue between the two shows is, for better or for worse, to argue about the type of storytelling you prefer. On the one hand, you have the ambitious-yet-sloppy mystery at the heart of True Detective; on the other hand, you have the scope and scale of Game of Thrones. Neither quite fulfills the promise of the so-called golden era of television, but if a television show has to miss the mark in one direction or the other, these two series are the perfect encapsulation of imperfection. And those of who prefer boldness over brevity will be thrilled to hear that HBO has finally (officially) decided to go all-in on a third season of the series, with Pizzolatto, Deadwood showrunner David Milch, and Blue Ruin director Jeremy Saulnier on board to steer the ship. This would be a pretty astonishing collection of talent for any independent film. For an entire season of True Detective? Well, good-goddamn.
I’ll gladly admit my bias when it comes to Pizzolatto and True Detective. I watched the first season over a single weekend weeks after the show had already peaked in pop culture; by the time Season 2 started, I was responsible for handling the weekly recaps here at the site and never wavered in my enthusiasm for Pizzolatto’s California neo-noir. Sure, Season 2 lacked the laser-sharp focus of its predecessor, and many of the show’s storylines fell apart with only the slightest nudging, but the core components that made the first season of True Detective were still present: ambitious storytelling, fearless performances, pockets of crackling dialogue, and a few memorable moments. Even its messiness was sort of endearing; so many shows in the era of prestige television are so poised, so polished, that it was frankly kind of a nice change of pace to watch a show lurch drunkenly from scene to scene. For all its flaws, True Detective never succumbed to fan service.
In the wake of HBO’s announcement, I’ve seen many people admit that the new additions to the show make them more likely to give the series another shot. Mahershala Ali and director Saulnier – not to mention the steadying hand of Deadwood scribe Milch – serve as proof that HBO is willing to give Pizzolatto the talent he needs to succeed. I’ll also throw in one other name for consideration: as long as Season 3 included T. Bone Burnett, the music supervisor from both seasons of True Detective, the floor will be considerably high. I wrote about the importance of Burnett to the success of the show a while back, but if Season 3 is indeed going to be set in the Ozarks, then Burnett’s skill as an Americana musician will give the show the sonic landscape it needs to succeed. Even the show’s angriest detractors wouldn’t dare deny the power of Burnett and singer-songwriter Lera Lynn’s contributions to the show. True Detective has always leaned more heavily on its soundtrack than most shows; bringing back Burnett will be a key next step in ensuring a return to form for Season 3.
So yes, bring on more True Detective. Let’s see more of Pizzolatto’s ham-fisted ruminations on the relativity of morality, watch Mahershala glower behind the wheel as he drives around the Ozarks, and listen to more sobering bluegrass songs. Let’s collectively dive into the only television show that rivals Game of Thrones and Stranger Things for its share of online bickering and Monday morning hot takes. Most of all, let’s see what happens when one of Hollywood’s most talented television writers gets a second chance to revitalize the show that made him famous. When the worst case scenario involves the most idiosyncratic series outside of Twin Peaks – especially given the occasional try-hard nature of Pizzolatto’s material – then we’re in for quite the exciting eight weeks of television. Here’s to the sloppy and sincere over the polished fan bait.