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True Detective's new season solid, but doesn't measure up to first edition

Rachel McAdams plays Det. Ani Bezzerides in True Detective.

Rachel McAdams plays Det. Ani Bezzerides in True Detective.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/6/2015 (1757 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It's possible that there have been tougher acts to follow in recent TV history, but the work of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in the first season of HBO's True Detective certainly set a standard that is hard to match and nigh on impossible to eclipse.

Perhaps it's because of this -- that it would be unfair to saddle any pair of performers with the weight of such lofty expectations -- that the series' producers opted to distribute the workload in Season 2 among four principal actors.

But even at that, there's no denying that Colin Farrell, Vince Vaughn, Rachel McAdams and Taylor Kitsch really have their work cut out for them.

The second season of True Detective is a clean-slate endeavour, following a completely new storyline and employing a new setting and an all-new collection of characters.

The new eight-episode drama takes place in Los Angeles, a detail that is hammered home constantly through the use of aerial shots of L.A.'s never-ending and ever-entangled freeway system. It's an effective, albeit obvious and overused, metaphor for the twisted and tangled lives of the series' central characters.

Ray Velcoro (Farrell) is a detective in the tiny city of Vinci, a heavily industrial suburb whose actual resident population is less than 1,000. Ray might be good at his job if he weren't so lousy at the rest of his life; he's divorced and on the verge of losing visitation rights to his young son, a situation he has created for himself by being a drunk and a drug user who's prone to violent outbursts. He's also very possibly a corrupt cop.

His troubles are rooted in a dark reality -- years earlier, in slightly happier times, he and his former wife were trying to start a family when she was brutally attacked and sexually assaulted; nine months later, she gave birth to a son and they decided against having a paternity test performed. The child survived; the marriage did not.

In the aftermath of the attack, Ray was given a tip about the identity of the assailant by mid-level crime boss Frank Semyon (Vaughn). What he did with the information is left unclear, but what's certain in the story's present tense is that Frank now has Ray firmly in his pocket.

Frank, meanwhile, is a man on the verge of a big opportunity, an investment in a railway mega-project that could allow him to become both rich and legit at the same time. The only problem is that the corrupt Vinci city manager who's handling the finances for the deal has gone missing, and soon turns up murdered in a most brutal and ritualistic fashion.

The body is discovered in a dusty park beside the freeway by an off-duty California Highway Patrol officer, Paul Woodrugh (Kitsch). (Actually, Woodrugh is on administrative leave after being accused of inappropriate behaviour by an actress he stopped for reckless driving.) The park's location places it in the jurisdiction of the L.A. Sheriff's Department, which brings Det. Ani Bezzerides (McAdams) into the picture.

Like Velcoro and Woodrugh, she arrives on the scene with plenty of personal baggage, and there's always a question whether her off-duty troubles will interfere with her ability to get the investigation right.

What has been constructed by the end of a slow-moving first episode is an uneasy task-force team led by Bezzerides and Velcoro. Each of them, as well as Woodrugh, has bosses who want the crime solved in a way that makes their law-enforcment entity look good and dumps dirt on the others.

As the story continues to unfold (the first three episodes were made available for preview), True Detective focuses more on the main characters' individual foibles and the uneasy trust they develop for each other than on the actual solution of the crime.

It's a reasonably engaging but thoroughly downbeat story, lacking the occasional spark of humour that the McConaughey/Harrelson chemistry brought to Season 1. All four lead actors bring a sense of determined purpose to their roles, and each delivers an impressive performance.

True Detective's second season is quite good. But given all the hype and celebration surrounding its initial set of episodes, can it possibly be good enough to avoid disappointing fans who so deeply loved the first season?

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @BradOswald

Brad Oswald

Brad Oswald
Perspectives Editor

After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.

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