Why ‘True Detective’ Should Change Up the Cast But Not the Music

By  · Published on June 13th, 2014


One of the best things about True Detective is the complicated relationship between detectives Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) with McConaughey’s Rust working as the perfect philosophical foil to Harrelson’s gregarious man’s man. The two have the ability to rub each other the wrong way personally, but they also make each other better detectives.

Viewers who love the relationship between Rust and Marty (and McConaughey and Harrelson) were likely disappointed when the show’s creator, Nic Pizzolatto, announced that not just two, but three, new detectives would be taking the reins in season two, leaving Team Rust/Cohle behind. True Detective will not only be changing up the cast, but also leaving the bayous of Louisiana to explore sun-soaked California. These changes may be less than great news for fans of season one’s location and character dynamic, but this approach is an exciting way to keep the series feeling fresh and expansive from season-to-season.

For a series rooted in unraveling mysteries, it makes sense that certain elements need to change to keep viewers on their toes, always guessing and always questioning what may happen next. But there is one element of True Detective that should remain constant – the music.

The musical palette T-Bone Burnett created for True Detective is haunting, beautiful, and terrifying. Burnett has proven he is a master at bringing southern locations to life having worked on projects from O Brother, Where Art Thou? to Crazy Heart to Walk The Line. He expertly makes music sound authentic while still bringing something fresh to the table, and his ability to ride this fine line helped make True Detective feel like a series that was both new and eerily timeless.

Even if Burnett does not stay with the series for season two, the standard he set of creating music that speaks to the story’s location (as well as the characters) will hopefully survive. Instead of the blue grass music that reflected the bayous, the music for True Detective’s new California location will need to reflect its new environments – a choice that will depend heavily on which part of California Pizzolatto decides to explore. But mystery should always be at the root of the show, so the music should help reinforce that feeling of existential unease, regardless of the location or the characters at the center of the story.

This also isn’t the first time an HBO series has changed out its cast and location over the course of a series. The Wire expanded its reach and cast of characters with each season, but one element that always remained was the show’s opening set to Tom Waits’ “Way Down in the Hole.” Where True Detective will completely change its leads and location, The Wire simply added to its cast and shifted its settings (and focus) from the streets all the way to the mayor’s office, but they did so without sacrificing Waits’ tone-setting theme.

The key difference (echoed by Weeds as wel) was how each season would have “Way Down in the Hole” performed by someone new (from The Blind Boys of Alabama to Waits to The Neville Brothers to DoMaJe to Steve Earle). This choice helped the series feel like a cohesive whole while still allowing each season (or chapter, depending on how you look at it) to have its own identity.

The opening for True Detective is set to “Far From Any Road” with The Handsome Family’s eerie vocals and the song’s off-putting instrumentation helping to paint the landscape of the series. With both a male (Brett Sparks) and a female (Rennie Sparks) vocalist featured on the song, True Detective may have a bit more room to play if they want to make slight changes to “Far From Any Road” to differentiate each season. (Maybe a female only version, especially if we get a female detective next season?)

Hopefully they keep “Far From Any Road.” It would help give a series at least one consistent element, and subtly changing who performs it would make each season feel like the show is simply adding a new layer to the overall story. True Detective will need new imagery for the opening to reflect the new story so why not create a slightly updated version of the song to go along with it?

The biggest problem with changing up key components of a show is losing viewers dedicated to the previous season, but music helps retain that emotional connection even if the faces (and cases) shift around. Plus, “Far From Any Road” is just too damned catchy to let go.