It Happened Again on True Detective

True Detective - Rust and Marty in the Car

A Note to Readers: The following contains descriptions of events that have played out over True Detective’s eight-episode run and details on the finale.  Read with caution if you are afraid of spoilers before having seen the entire season.

“It Happened Again on True Detective”

About six months ago the initial previews for True Detective boldly announced The McConaissaince was coming to TV, and just look at how gristly Woody Harrelson had become!  It promised yet another slow-burning mystery…this one on the oilfield strewn and smokestack choked bayous of Louisiana (the cable network’s favorite homestead, seen also in True Blood and Treme).  The big boys at HBO were gonna show the basic cable boobs behind The Killing and The Bridge how it should really be done.  It all felt a little tired.  We’d seen this before.  And it was with a morbid curiosity that I tuned into the first episode.

The opening credits embraced the conventions with seductive glee.  A creepy folksy tune titled “Far from Any Road” by the Handsome Family spun tales of a “poisoned Creole soul” and brooded over a graphic artist’s phantasmagoria of overlaid images, like a deadly serious realist flip side to the trashy-kitschy credits of the supernatural True Blood.  It was stylish and admirable…but predictable…HBO shows are known for their innovative and signature opening credit sequences.

True Detective - Opening Credit Shot Highway Face

True Detective - Opening Credit Shot Burning Face

It wouldn’t be until later episodes that I realized the credits’ subliminal power.  The image of a winding highway superimposed over Woody Harrelson’s face, in particular, was something that began to creep into my poisoned TV soul and became more unsettling every time I saw it.

The first episode, too, catered to the conventions.  Two prickly opposites were partnered to solve the murder of a drug-addled prostitute named Dora Lange who was found with antlers on her head and other cultish mumbo-jumbo casting a pall over the scene.  The story was presented in flashbacks as the elder versions of our detectives were questioned separately in 2012 about the case from the mid 1990’s hinting at something larger…a new copycat killer perhaps…and a current riff between the former partners.  Episode One was slow…methodical…well acted…well directed…tinged with nihilism…yet where was it going and would anyone care once we got there?

Eight episodes.  A complete story.  An anthology series in the style of American Horror Story – a title that could’ve easily been used here.  True Detective, unlike Twin Peaks and The Killing before it, promised completion…no long drawn-out anti-climax stretched over multiple seasons.  The approach was like that of an eight-hour film with one director, Cary Joji Fukunaga (the mastermind behind two stylistically disparate but equally compelling films, Sin Nombre and Jane Eyre), who armed with the scripts from under-the-radar novelist Nic Pizzolatto created a consistent and quietly thrilling tone.  So I stay tuned in…and slowly but surely I became addicted.  The communal fervor for the show bloomed along with my obsession.  Continue reading

The Study of Film through Seinfeld

We thought we were watching TV, but the TV was watching Film.

“I hope you’re watching the clothes, Elaine – because I can’t take my eyes off the passion.” – J. Peterman on The English Patient

And no show in the history of the television medium has been more passionate about film than Seinfeld – yet another reason the sitcom has weathered the test of time and is still funny to this day.  Tied to its central conceit of being a show based on observational humor surrounding the minutia of ordinary lives, Seinfeld‘s keen observations on how film defines a culture, has the ability to rescue us from our own suffocating mediocrity, and how one’s taste in film can shape their character is one of the big reasons I still watch in endless re-loop episode after episode after episode.  And I dare you to name another defunct show that is still quoted and discussed on a near daily basis in offices across the country.  It’s because like the greatest of films (or the worst deserving of ridicule), through Seinfeld, we learn about ourselves – and more importantly – how to laugh at ourselves.

Seinfeld‘s greatest running gag was its references to fake movies – the most famous of which was probably Rochelle, Rochelle – an art-film about “a young woman’s strange erotic journey from Milan to Minsk.”  It was first featured in one of my favorite episodes of all-time, the charming almost now period-piece-like, “The Movie” where the gang haplessly tries to meet up at the cinema for a showing of CheckMate (a high-class thriller of political intrigue we are to assume).  Continue reading