True Detective's premiere season possessed a nightmarish pull. The two men at the center of the story were rotten to their cores, but that was just part of the feverish, dark atmosphere as Rust (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty (Woody Harrelson) delved into a case involving a serial killer in the bayou. It was a hypnotic, mystifying and completely unique take on the cop drama. Season 2 is… well, it's definitely not that.
The premiere introduced us to our four leads, each one a sadder sack than the last. There's Ray (Farrell), a compromised detective with serious dependency issues, Ani (McAdams), an angry detective with a litany of family issues and a possible gambling problem, Paul (Kitsch), a suicidal cop who is in a committed relationship with his motorcycle and finally, Frank (Vaughn), a corrupt casino owner who just wants to be rich and have kids. Are you asleep yet? Because I was. However, after much rewinding, I finally made it to the end of the episode that brought these boring lost souls together to investigate the murder of a city planner.
Since only one episode of the season has aired so far, I don't want to count Season 2 out just yet. It is a solid cast, after all, but the season is off to an unrelentingly dull start. The main problem is how thinly drawn the main characters are. The premiere's one job was to introduce us to Ray, Ani, Paul and Frank (it's unofficial job was to see how many useless shots of Los Angeles highways the audience could stand before revolting), but not one of them stood out. Let's take a closer look at each one of the characters, though, and see which one of them shows the most promise.
Farrell deserves props for thoroughly deglamorizing himself for the role of Ray. He looks gaunt and paunchy, like he hasn't slept in a good decade. Throughout the hour, he swung wildly from being a concerned father to an alcoholic who thought it would be a good idea to beat the crap out of the father of his son's bully and then verbally berate the 12-year-old kid. Ray is unhinged by the sexual assault of his ex-wife (which resulted in the birth of his sad-faced, redheaded son, even though he won't admit it), his divorce and maybe his lack of ethical standards since he's working for Frank.
I enjoyed Farrell's performance. His character only had a handful of bizarre lines, unlike Frank, who I'll get to in a minute. He looked like he wandered straight out of Roman Polanski's Chinatown (seriously, the show is drawing major inspiration from the classic film, right down to the harsh red lighting and grimy visuals), and I did appreciate how annoyed he was when he found his son was being bullied by a kid named Aspen. Aspen, really? People, don't name your kids Aspen.
Promise meter: Mildly interesting in a rejected character from a Raymond Chandler novel kind of way. He seems like a what you see is what you get kind of guy, so don't expect much personal growth.
Oh, dear. I had such high hopes for McAdams' character, but Ani is just angry at everyone and everything. She's angry at her sister for doing internet porn, angry at her father, angry at her partner for talking about her father, angry at the city for being gross and angry at the casino for kicking her out. She has no other characteristics. She's like The Hulk with a scowl and her own private dressing room because she is somehow the only female cop on the force.
I feel I should want to know why Ani is so angry, but the answer is so clearly a bad childhood I am not even going to ask. She and Ray would make quite the miserable duo if the show decides to go that route, but the combination of the two of them together would be the most depressing thing to happen in pop culture since the first 10 minutes of Up.
Promise meter: Ani might be the show's dark horse. Her angry cop style is nothing you haven't seen before, but she will either become the moral center of the case or become compromised. There is room for her to evolve or devolve. If the focus stays on her family drama, all bets are off.
You can do anything to Paul, just don't take the highway from him. It's all he has; he's nothing without the road. He's Jack Kerouac with PTSD. He is the most boring human being to ever grace my television screen.
Promise meter: This kid is going nowhere. He will probably continue to drive really fast and blather in a monotone about his love affair with asphalt for the rest of the season. So if you are into that, Paul might be your favorite. He looks good in a towel too, so he's got that going for him.
Everything about Frank delights me on a deep, personal level. Vaughn is trying his best to be a mildly bad guy, but he is the worst bad guy ever. I'm not even sure what kind of organized crime he's involved in. He's building casinos, and he used to locate hard-to-find people (like the man who assaulted Ray's wife), but really, what is his deal? He has a posse, which suggests he is a big deal, and he talks like he used to be drinking buddies with Rust, but beyond that, his level of danger felt very low.
Throughout the hour, he tried to barter a deal and said things like, I kid you not, "Don't do anything when you're hungry. Don't even eat when you're hungry." It was so bad, it was almost good. He and his wife are also trying to have a kid. He's like the teddy bear of crime lords.
Promise meter: Frank is already the best. Everyone should be more like Frank.
True Detective Season 2 is trying so hard to distance itself from Season 1 it's literally on the other side of the continent. This year is like a pastiche of crime movies (and wacky comedies — the dead guy was ripped straight out of Weekend at Bernie's) clichés. The first hour was all blustering and nonsense. There was Frank, though, and Frank makes everything better.
True Detective Season 2 airs Sundays at 9/8c on HBO.
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