{TB Talks TV} True Detective Review: “The Western Book of the Dead”

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true-detectiveseason-2Tweetable Takeaway:  It seems True Detective fans may be evenly split after episode one, but give it time.

Airtime: Sundays 9 PM, HBO

By: , Contributor

About a year ago, I found myself dozing off to the sounds of Matthew McConaughey’s deep low droning in the pilot episode of HBO’s . I attributed this to a fluke–my unreasonably comfy pleather sectional and the exhausting day I had. There was so much positive hype, and my roommate who had been watching along with me was entranced, raving about it after I woke up. So I gave it another go a couple nights later…Only to doze off again. For me, this thing was like an adult lullaby.

Obviously it got better. But I must profess, I wasn’t on the True Detective bandwagon until at least 3 or 4 episodes in; the one impressively lengthy shot following Rust Cohle running around a gang-infested neighborhood while police took it by storm solidifying it’s true impressiveness in my mind. I stayed awake after that.

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All this to say–I didn’t doze off last night during the second season premiere, “The Western Book of the Dead.” Not once. Not even a little. And it wasn’t because it was an edge-of-your seat thriller. It just held my attention with a little more ease than its series debut, I think in large part due to a larger cast of characters (Colin Farrel, Vince Vaugn, Rachel McAdams, Taylor Kitsch) to jump around to. None of which give a greater performance here than either McConaughey or Harrelson, but I suppose we should give it time.

The first episode kicked things off in a particularly drab and gloomy nature. Taking place in the fictional city of Vinci, we meet four main characters who all would do well to heed the surprisingly optimistic final line of nihilist Rust Cohle in season one “If you ask me, the light’s winning.” Things are dark here, set against a backdrop of pipes and pollution. Colin Farrel’s Ray Velcoro is a stereotypical mustachioed, swigging-cheap-whisky-in-his-car, crooked detective in the midst of an ongoing child custody case.

Vaughn’s Frank Semyon is a former organized crime head looking to improve his legacy (and bank accounts) for his grandchildren by going legitimate, finding hurdles at each attempt. McAdam’s Officer Ani Bezzerides has abandonment issues from her long-haired hippie father (David Morse) who gives lectures at a sort of religious institute, and who she blames for her sister’s current venture into masturbating on webcam for a living. And Taylor Kitsch’s highway patrol officer Paul Woodrugh needs to pop Viagra to receive oral sex from his extremely hot girlfriend and turns his motorcycle’s headlight off as he’s pushing 100 mph on the PCH at 2:00 AM.

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All these characters are linked at the end of the episode after Paul discovers Vinci City Manager, Paul Casper, who’d gone missing three days earlier, sitting on a bench on a PCH scenic detour overlooking the ocean, with his eyes gouged out. Velcoro was following up on Casper’s missing person case he’d been assigned to. Bezzerides was just responding to the police call. Semyon, trying to get in on the ground floor on the California Rail Corridor, needed Casper to sell the idea to the right people. The mystery of who did this, and why they left Casper’s body the way they did, will presumably drive the plot of the forthcoming seven episodes.

So the story kept my attention (which isn’t a stamp of approval, just a comparison to my reaction to the first episode of last season), but the dialogue was sometimes painfully cheesy. I’d argue, and probably get a lot of counter-argument, that writer/show-runner Pizzolatto’s strongest suit is NOT dialogue. I remember cringing at McConaughey’s highfalutin emo-teenager echoing line he whispered dramatically, “I can smell the psychosphere,” as if anybody watching would know what that might possibly mean. There were plenty of these false-ringing, trying-too-hard lines throughout last season, and plenty in this premiere. The difference is McConaughey and Harrelson have the acting chops to deliver them successfully. I fear the current cast will struggle with Pizzolatto’s writing and ultimately be what makes this season pale in comparison to its predecessor.

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An honorable mention, though, must go to a line delivered by Farrell to a 12 year-old boy after he discovered the kid had been bullying his own son, chopping up his new Nike’s: “If you ever bully another kid again, I’ll come back and buttf**** your father in front of your mother’s headless corpse on this god damned lawn.” He really sold that one. If we keep getting stuff like that, I’m in. Am I sick for that reason? Probably. Was it entertaining as hell? Oh yeah.

Oh, and, ironically, my roommate who loved last season fell asleep during this episode. It seems True Detective fans may be evenly split after episode one. We’ll know where the majority will ultimately side in the coming two months.

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Paul co-created and writes for SHOWoff, a game that lets players predict what happens next on their favorite TV shows, earn points for what they get right, and see where they stack up against friends and the world (free in the iOS App store).  Check out the SHOWoff app at playSHOWoff.com
Twitter: @paulgulyas
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Keep up with all of Paul’s reviews of True Detective here.
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