It has been close to a year and a half since the first season of HBO’s ‘True Detective’ wrapped up, and it was one of the best first years of a TV series you’re going to find anywhere, past or present. Viewers knew from the beginning that ‘True Detective’ was an anthology series – with brand-new characters and actors (and a brand-new story) arriving with each new season – but after the highly disappointing premiere of Season 2, one has to wonder why HBO even bothered to bring back the series at all.
Gone are stars Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson and Michelle Monaghan, and in are Colin Farrell, Vince Vaughn, Rachel McAdams and Taylor Kitsch. Also gone is Season 1 director Cary Fukunaga, who has been replaced by Justin Lin (the director of a number of ‘Fast & Furious’ films and the upcoming ‘Star Trek’ sequel) for the first couple of episodes, followed by a number of others for the remainder of this 8-episode season. Almost immediately, the downgrade in quality is noticed, even in the opening credits, which have replaced The Handsome Family’s haunting “Far from Any Road” with the less interesting “Nevermind” by Leonard Cohen. Ironically, “nevermind” may be exactly the right reaction to this season premiere.
Season 2 replaces the Louisiana bayous with the twists and turns of congested roads in Southern California. The setting is the fictional town of Vinci. While the change in locale probably made production costs much cheaper for the show-runners (creator Nic Pizzolatto returns to once again pen all of Season 2’s episodes), it doesn’t help in distinguishing this new season from a dozen other crime dramas already on the air. Other than some interesting aerial shots of freeways and industrial locations, Season 2 (so far) lacks the visual appeal that fans got the first time around.
While I’ve never been a huge fan of Colin Farrell, it quickly becomes obvious that he’s the most interesting actor to watch in this new season. We’re first introduced to his character Detective Ray Velcoro, a divorced father, dropping his son off at his school. Ray’s son is a rather pudgy, out-of-shape redhead, and it’s apparent that the kid gets picked on daily at school and that Ray is concerned about his toughness. In the very next scene, we discover that Ray is much more concerned about something else. In a meeting with his lawyer over extending his visitation rights, we learn that Ray’s ex-wife had been raped, and Ray’s son may very well be the result of that sexual assault.
Vince Vaughn plays Frank Semyon, who is sort of the organized crime kingpin in Vinci. We learn of his connection with Velcoro quite early on. After his wife’s rape, a younger Velcoro enlisted Semyon’s aide to find out who assaulted her. Semyon provided Velcoro with the identity of the man in exchange for Velcoro’s help from time to time, and it seems as if the two men have had a working relationship ever since. As a viewer, I immediately thought that Frank may have ID’d someone who wasn’t guilty of the rape, but rather a person he just wanted to get rid of (or perhaps a false ID to protect someone he knew, maybe even himself), but after all the dead ends and red herrings that existed in the first season of ‘True Detective’, I’ve learned not to look for anything that creative in Nic Pizzolatto’s writing.
However, Velcoro isn’t the only cop who will play a major role in this new story. We also get a pair of other police officers to keep track of. The first is Rachel McAdams’ Ani Bezzerides, a deputy for the Sheriff’s office we first meet leading a raid on what she suspects to be a house of prostitution. It turns out that it’s not a whorehouse at all, but rather a perfectly legal and licensed establishment for women to perform on webcams for paying customers. The real reason Ani raided the place was to see what her sister, Athena (Leven Rambin), had gotten herself into. Ani thinks Athena is doing porn, but Athena insists it’s a legitimate way of making a living. The two sisters also have a rather quirky father (played by David Morse), who’s a long-haired hippie guru – the kind that you’ll only find in Southern California. His character is perhaps the most laughable in ‘True Detective’, and I suspect he only exists as a tool in which to spout off some of Pizzolatto’s more ridiculous bits of dialogue.
The other cop we’re introduced to is motorcycle patrolman Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch), whom we first see pulling over an attractive blonde for speeding on the highway. The blonde is an actress who tries to get out of her ticket by luring Woodrugh back to her place for sex, only to have her turn around and accuse Paul of trying to solicit oral sex from her. Woodrugh winds up getting suspended by his captain until the situation is resolved, and returns home to his super-hot girlfriend – only to need to pop a Viagra and spend about 30 minutes in the bathroom before he can actually have sex with her. Later, we see Paul speeding down the highway at night on his motorcycle – doing about 100 miles an hour and then turning the headlights off to race blindly through the night. Yeah, this guy is pretty screwed up.
With the first episode doing so much to introduce us to these four characters (and how their paths cross), it was difficult to follow the set-up for this season’s main storyline, which involves the disappearance of Vinci’s city manager Ben Caspar, who’s supposed to be at a gathering Frank Semyon has set up, but never shows. We see Caspar in the back of a car (wearing dark sunglasses) throughout the episode, but it’s never made clear who’s doing the driving. When Paul blindly races his motorcycle at the end of the episode – and crashes it when he turns back on the lights – he comes across Caspar’s dead body propped up on the bench of a picnic table on the side of the road. His eyes appear to have been burned with some sort of acid. Both Velcoro and Bezzerides are called to the crime scene, and the first episode ends with the three main police officers getting together for the first time.
There is, of course, a lot of other stuff going on in this first episode, but I’m not sure how important any of it may be in the long run – other than to establish what kind of characters we’re dealing with. For example, there’s a segment where Velcoro goes to the home of a classmate of his son who was responsible for slashing up his kid’s expensive tennis shoes. Velcoro both cusses the kid out and beats the living daylights out of the kid’s father – which almost instantly assures that Velcoro is hated by the home audience.
In fact, that’s the biggest issue I have with this new season of ‘True Detective’. There’s not a likable character in the bunch. While Season 1’s Rust Cohle and Marty Hart certainly walked around with their demons, both men were worth rooting for. Here, however, we have four lead characters that seem to have very little in terms of redeemable qualities. Granted, that may change as the season goes on, but right now I care very little about any of these people or what may happen to them.
So what did all of you think? Am I totally off the mark (wouldn’t be the first time) or were you also tremendously disappointed by the Season 2 premiere?