‘True Detective’ Season 2 Review: So Is This Thing Good Or What?

Editor-at-Large
06.17.15 58 Comments

The first season of True Detective burst through the door like cops on a drug raid. Created by a largely unknown writer, and carried by serious performances from actors largely associated — at that point — with goofball off-screen personalities, the series captivated audiences and critics as it spun a time-shifting tale about damaged cops and creepy Louisiana murders. Seriously, people were Going. Nuts. for this show. Go back and check if you don’t remember. People had theories, and examinations of potential literary influences, and bad drawings (you’re welcome), all the way up until the finale, which let some people down because they felt it bailed out of an escape hatch rather than confront all the things it spent hours setting up. It got a little out of hand, to be honest.

Point being: True Detective returns for a second season this Sunday, June 21. Gone are your McConaugheys and Harrelsons and potential spaghetti-faced serial killers, replaced by a new set of actors — Colin Farrell, Vince Vaughn, Rachel McAdams, and Taylor Kitsch — and a plot about crooked and occasionally murdered California politicians. HBO released screeners for the first three episodes, which I watched earlier in the week. Hopefully I can help you out with any questions you have about the show. Please, fire away.

Is it good?

I mean, that depends. Did you like the first season? Because if you liked the first season, there are a lot of things you’ll probably like here. Colin Farrell’s character is another self-destructive, mustachioed cop with a troubled past. The characters played by Rachel McAdams and Taylor Kitsch are self-destructive, non-mustachioed cops with a troubled pasts. Sometimes they make pronouncements about The World and The Way Things Are. There’s not necessarily a playbook Nic Pizzolatto is using here, but there is a framework. Although I suppose it wouldn’t have made much sense to take a successful detective show titled True Detective and make it about, like, trapeze artists in a traveling circus or something, even though trapeze artists traveling the country solving murders would be a great show.

So it’s bad?

Nope, I wouldn’t say that. There’s plenty of positive things in the first three episodes. The characters are a lot more than different-shaped Rust Cohle clones. Farrell’s character, Ray Velcoro, has some depth that they lay out pretty quickly, and McAdams’ character, Ani Bezzerides, is a hard-drinking, hard-gambling, porn-loving, knife-wielding daughter of a hippie, which is better than it sounds, I promise, and just about the furthest thing from Regina George you could ever imagine.

But the most surprising thing — and I kind of can’t believe I’m going to say this — is that Vince Vaughn is pretty good as the mob boss, Frank Semyon. I was expecting the full Vince Vaughn, all chatter and “ear muffs” and what have you. What we get instead is a pretty understated, menacing criminal. Things kinda hit the fan for Frank early on, and Vaughn does a surprisingly good job with the desperation and simmering rage.

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