True Detective is an American anthology crime drama television series created and written by Nic Pizzolatto. The series, broadcast by the premium cable network HBO in the United States, premiered on January 12, 2014. Each season of the series is structured as a disparate, self-contained narrative, employing new cast ensembles and following various sets of characters and settings.
The first season, starring Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Monaghan, Michael Potts, and Tory Kittles, takes place in Louisiana and follows a pair of Louisiana State Police homicide detectives, and their pursuit of a serial killer over a 17-year period. The second season, starring Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Taylor Kitsch, Kelly Reilly, and Vince Vaughn, is set in California, and focuses on three detectives from three cooperating police departments and a criminal-turned-businessman as they investigate a series of crimes they believe are linked to the murder of a corrupt politician.
The first season received generally excellent reviews from critics and earned high ratings for HBO. It was nominated for and won numerous awards and other accolades, chiefly for its acting, cinematography, writing, and direction. Reception to the second season was more divided, though the show maintained high viewership for HBO.
The third season was greenlit in August 2017, with Mahershala Ali cast in the lead role. Pizzolatto, Jeremy Saulnier and Daniel Sackheim serve as directors. Pizzolatto is the primary writer alongside David Milch.
Title card for the first season
|Created by||Nic Pizzolatto|
Scott Lasser (season 2)
"Far from Any Road" by The Handsome Family (season 1)|
"Nevermind" by Leonard Cohen (season 2)
|Composer(s)||T Bone Burnett|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||2|
|No. of episodes||16 (list of episodes)|
Louisiana (season 1)|
California (season 2)
Adam Arkapaw (season 1)|
Nigel Bluck (season 2)
|Running time||54–87 minutes|
|Original release||January 12, 2014 – present|
Before developing True Detective, Nic Pizzolatto worked as a literature professor for the University of Chicago, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and DePauw University. He also delved into fiction writing, having developed a fascination for it as a graduate student at the University of Arkansas. His first published work was the short story collection Between Here and the Yellow Sea, released in 2006. The author published his debut novel, titled Galveston, four years later, and around the same time began preparing to branch out into the television industry (earlier attempts were never realized due to lack of capital).
Intended to be Galveston's follow-up, Pizzolatto felt True Detective was more suitable on-screen once the project took definite form. Pizzolatto shopped the novel to two TV executives, and, once he secured a deal in May 2010, drafted six screenplays, including the pilot episode script for True Detective, which ran 90 pages. He devoted another script for the series shortly after his departure from The Killing's writing staff in 2011, thanks to the support of Anonymous Content. The final copy, amounting to 500 pages, was written without the aid of a writing staff. By this time, Pizzolatto secured a development deal with HBO, and by April 2012, the network commissioned True Detective on an order of eight episodes. Set up as an anthology series, each season will feature a different cast of characters and self-contained narratives in various time periods and locations.
The initial location for principal photography of True Detective's first season was Arkansas, but Pizzolatto later opted to film in Louisiana, which was cheaper due to its generous film-tax incentive program. Production lasted 100 consecutive days, and each episode was shot on 35 mm film. The crew filmed exterior shots of various constructed sets, including a remote sugarcane field outside of Erath, in addition to real life locations such as Fort Macomb, a nineteenth-century fort located outside of New Orleans.
California was selected as the setting for True Detective's sophomore season. Producers were urged to avoid filming in Los Angeles and, instead, focus on the more obscure regions of the state to "capture a certain psycho-sphere ambiance". Production began in November 2014.
Led by creative director Patrick Clair, True Detective's title sequences were developed by a collaborative team consisting of three motion-design studios: Santa Monica-based Elastic, Antibody and Breeder, both based in Australia. For the first season, Clair and his team took a variety of photos of the Louisiana scenery, which became the sequence's backbone. They superimposed these images onto low poly meshes, thanks to the use of various animation and special effects techniques. This was a meticulous process for production, since they wanted to avoid creating a digitized look for the sequence. Once its final cut took form, the team polished it by employing optical glitching and motion distortion technique. True Detective's season one opening theme is "Far from Any Road", an alternative country song originally composed by The Handsome Family for their 2003 album Singing Bones. The Sydney Morning Herald included season one's opening sequence in their list of the "Ten of the Best" title sequences on television.
Clair took a similar approach to creating the title sequence for True Detective's second season. Production used material from a number of photographers, including aerial shots captured by David Maisel. However, unlike season one, season two's title sequence incorporates deep, vivid gold and red color, thereby presenting "that more complicated view of California". Leonard Cohen's "Nevermind" is the season two opening theme, which is a song off Cohen's 2014 album Popular Problems. The theme song's lyrics change with every episode, incorporating different verses from Cohen's song.
The first actor to be cast for True Detective was Matthew McConaughey, who acted as Detective Rustin "Rust" Cohle. McConaughey came to Pizzolatto's attention for his performance in the 2011 thriller film The Lincoln Lawyer, and was contracted before the series was commissioned by HBO. He and Woody Harrelson were among a pool of candidates Pizzolatto had in mind for star billing. Although the actor was to play Detective Martin "Marty" Hart, he later convinced Pizzolatto to cast him as Cohle. Instead, Harrelson was assigned the role of Hart at McConaughey's request. Michelle Monaghan played the female lead Maggie Hart, while Michael Potts and Tory Kittles were given the roles of Detectives Maynard Gilbough and Thomas Papania, respectively. Major recurring roles in the first season include Kevin Dunn as Major Ken Quesada and Alexandra Daddario as Lisa Tragnetti.
Cary Joji Fukunaga was appointed as director of True Detective's first season. He competed with Alejandro González Iñárritu for the role, but Iñárritu dropped out because of other film commitments. To prepare, Fukunaga conducted research with a real-life homicide detective of the Louisiana State Police's Criminal Investigations Division. The director brought on Adam Arkapaw as the project cinematographer, and hired Alex DiGerlando, who he worked with on Benh Zeitlin's Glory at Sea (2008), as the production designer.
In January 2014, Pizzolatto signed a two-year contract extension with HBO, effectively renewing the series for two additional seasons. Much like its predecessor, season two of True Detective consists of eight episodes, all written by Pizzolatto. However, the responsibility of directing was assigned to several people. Justin Lin directed the first two episodes. Fukunaga, who directed all of season one, did not return as director; he remains, however, an executive producer, as do McConaughey and Harrelson. Pizzolatto hired fellow novelist Scott Lasser to help develop and write stories for the second half of the season.
The season's first significant casting was Colin Farrell as Detective Ray Velcoro. Vince Vaughn, playing the role of criminal and entrepreneur Frank Semyon, was officially cast toward the end of the month. By November, True Detective's principal cast expanded to include Rachel McAdams as Detective Ani Bezzerides, Taylor Kitsch as California Highway Patrol Officer Paul Woodrugh, and Kelly Reilly as Jordan Semyon, Frank's wife.
In July 2016, HBO head of programming Casey Bloys confirmed plans for a potential third season, stating, "It is not dead. I talked to Nic about it and both Nic and HBO are open to another season. I don't think Nic has a take and he's working on some other projects. We're open to somebody else writing it and Nic supervising it. It's a valuable franchise, it's not dead, we just don't have a take for a third season yet." This came shortly after McConaughey said he would hypothetically be interested in reprising his role as Rust Cohle in a third season. In March 2017, it was revealed that Pizzolatto had written the first two episodes of a potential third season and that David Milch had joined the creative team.
In August 2017, HBO officially greenlit a third season, the story of which takes place in the Ozarks over three separate time periods. The first two episodes were directed by Jeremy Saulnier; he had been expected to direct the third episode, but had to exit the series due to scheduling conflicts. In March 2018, it was announced that Daniel Sackheim was added as director and that he and Pizzolatto would direct the remaining six episodes. Pizzolatto is the sole writer, with the exception of episode 4 which he co-wrote with David Milch. Mahershala Ali has been cast as the lead character, playing Wayne Hays, a state police detective from Northwest Arkansas. Ray Fisher plays Wayne's son, Freddy Burns; Carmen Ejogo plays Amelia Reardon, an Arkansas schoolteacher with a connection to two missing children in 1980; Stephen Dorff plays Roland West, an Arkansas State Investigator whose career has been influenced by a baffling crime; Scoot McNairy plays Tom, a father who suffers a terrible loss that ties his fate to that of two state police detectives over 10 years; and Mamie Gummer plays Lucy Purcell, a mother of two children who finds herself involved in a crime.
|Season||Episodes||Originally aired||Average viewers|
|First aired||Last aired|
|1||8||January 12, 2014||March 9, 2014||2.33|
|2||8||June 21, 2015||August 9, 2015||2.61|
In 2012, two former homicide investigators with the Louisiana State Police's Criminal Investigations Division, Rustin "Rust" Cohle (McConaughey) and Martin "Marty" Hart (Harrelson), are summoned for questioning by detectives Maynard Gilbough (Potts) and Thomas Papania (Kittles), about the Dora Lange murder investigation of 1995; they have not seen nor spoken to each other since an altercation concerning Martin's wife Maggie Hart (Monaghan) over a decade prior. With many of the old files destroyed in Hurricane Rita, the two men are asked to recount the history of their working relationship, personal lives, and the Dora Lange murder investigation, as well as a series of other related individual cases as new evidence suggests that the perpetrator remains at large.
|Title||Directed by||Written by||Original air date||US viewers|
|1||1||"The Long Bright Dark"||Cary Joji Fukunaga||Nic Pizzolatto||January 12, 2014||2.33|
|2||2||"Seeing Things"||Cary Joji Fukunaga||Nic Pizzolatto||January 19, 2014||1.67|
|3||3||"The Locked Room"||Cary Joji Fukunaga||Nic Pizzolatto||January 26, 2014||1.93|
|4||4||"Who Goes There"||Cary Joji Fukunaga||Nic Pizzolatto||February 9, 2014||1.99|
|5||5||"The Secret Fate of All Life"||Cary Joji Fukunaga||Nic Pizzolatto||February 16, 2014||2.25|
|6||6||"Haunted Houses"||Cary Joji Fukunaga||Nic Pizzolatto||February 23, 2014||2.64|
|7||7||"After You've Gone"||Cary Joji Fukunaga||Nic Pizzolatto||March 2, 2014||2.34|
|8||8||"Form and Void"||Cary Joji Fukunaga||Nic Pizzolatto||March 9, 2014||3.52|
California Highway Patrol officer and war veteran Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) discovers the dead body of a local businessman who was involved in a major land deal. Given the ambiguous jurisdictional nature of the crime scene, two other officers, Vinci Police Department Detective Raymond "Ray" Velcoro (Colin Farrell) and Ventura County Sheriff's Office CID Antigone "Ani" Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams), are assigned to help Woodrugh investigate the murder. The crime soon involves Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn), a career criminal who was involved in the land deal and whose life savings were stolen when the murder took place. Semyon has Detective Velcoro on his payroll, due to him helping the volatile detective locate and execute the man who raped his wife years earlier. The three detectives, plus Semyon, quickly realize a larger conspiracy at play involving the victim's past as a police officer, the corrupt city of Vinci, and the power struggle going on between the mayor's son, the Russian mafia, and the Vinci Police Department, who seek to silence the three detectives and their erstwhile mobster ally.
|Title||Directed by||Written by||Original air date||US viewers|
|9||1||"The Western Book of the Dead"||Justin Lin||Nic Pizzolatto||June 21, 2015||3.17|
|10||2||"Night Finds You"||Justin Lin||Nic Pizzolatto||June 28, 2015||3.05|
|11||3||"Maybe Tomorrow"||Janus Metz||Nic Pizzolatto||July 5, 2015||2.62|
|12||4||"Down Will Come"||Jeremy Podeswa||Nic Pizzolatto & Scott Lasser||July 12, 2015||2.36|
|13||5||"Other Lives"||John Crowley||Nic Pizzolatto||July 19, 2015||2.42|
|14||6||"Church in Ruins"||Miguel Sapochnik||Nic Pizzolatto & Scott Lasser||July 26, 2015||2.34|
|15||7||"Black Maps and Motel Rooms"||Daniel Attias||Nic Pizzolatto||August 2, 2015||2.18|
|16||8||"Omega Station"||John Crowley||Nic Pizzolatto||August 9, 2015||2.73|
True Detective's first season received positive reviews from television critics, with several naming it among the best television dramas of the year. On the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the first season garnered a rating of 87%, based on 65 reviews, with an average rating of 8.8/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "In True Detective, performances by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey reel the viewer in, while the style, vision and direction make it hard to turn away." On Metacritic, season one scored an 87 out of 100, based on 41 critics, indicating "universal acclaim".
Reviewers from The Daily Beast, The Atlantic, and The Daily Telegraph cited True Detective as the strongest show in recent memory. Tim Goodman from The Hollywood Reporter said the acting, dialogue, and sleek production were the series' most redeeming qualities. HitFix's Alan Sepinwall agreed, and believed that these attributes "speak to the value of the hybrid anthology format Pizzolatto is using here ... points to a potentially fascinating shift in dramatic series television." Richard Lawson, writing for Vanity Fair, said that Pizzolatto and Fukunaga's sensibilities produce "a captivating and offbeat tweak of a well-worn genre". Despite its critical regard, some critics were not as enthusiastic in their reviews of season one. The New York Times journalist Mike Hale thought the script too readily deferred to religion as its narrative backbone, as did Chris Cabin from Slant Magazine. Hank Steuver of The Washington Post wrote that True Detective failed to realize its own ambition.
The ensemble performances, namely McConaughey and Harrelson, were frequently mentioned in review for the show. Robert Bianco in USA Today wrote that the duo met, and even exceeded occasionally, the "enormously high" performance expectations of the "golden age of TV acting". David Wiegand of the San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times journalist Robert Lloyd singled out the two men for their work in the series; The Boston Globe did the same for Monaghan. Variety's Brian Lowry said the True Detective cast consisted of "fine players on the periphery".
True Detective's second season received mixed reviews. Praise was given to the performances of Farrell, McAdams, and Kitsch, cinematography, and action sequences. However, many critics felt it was weaker than the first season. Most criticism focused on the convoluted plot and dialogue. On Rotten Tomatoes, the season has a rating of 64%, based on 72 reviews, with an average rating of 6.6/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "True Detective's second season stands on its own as a solid police drama, with memorable moments and resonant relationships outweighing predictable plot twists." On Metacritic, the season has a score of 61 out of 100, based on 41 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
David Hinckley of the New York Daily News gave it a very positive review, and wrote: "It's still the kind of show that makes TV viewers reach for phrases like 'golden age of television drama'" and that "the second installment of True Detective goes out of the way not to echo the first." Hank Stuever of The Washington Post gave it a generally positive review, praising the performances, and wrote: "There is something still lugubrious and overwrought about True Detective, but there's also a mesmerizing style to it — it's imperfect, but well made."
A more mixed review came from Brian Lowry of Variety, who wrote: "Although generally watchable, the inspiration that turned the first [season] into an obsession for many seems to have drained out of writer Nic Pizzolatto's prose."
Sean T. Collins of Rolling Stone gave it a negative review and described the season as having "emerged as the year's most passionately disliked show," and described it as a "squandered opportunity" for Nic Pizzolatto.
For the 30th TCA Awards, True Detective won for Outstanding Achievement in Movies, Miniseries, and Specials and received nominations for Outstanding New Program and Program of the Year; and McConaughey won for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Drama. For the 4th Critics' Choice Television Awards, the series was nominated for Best Drama Series, and McConaughey won for Best Actor in a Drama Series. For the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards, the series was nominated for Outstanding Drama Series, Harrelson and McConaughey were both nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, Pizzolatto was nominated for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series for "The Secret Fate of All Life", and Fukunaga won for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series for "Who Goes There".
For the 66th Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards, the series was nominated for seven awards, and won four, including Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series and Outstanding Main Title Design. For the 67th Writers Guild of America Awards, the series won for Best Drama Series and Best New Series. For the 21st Screen Actors Guild Awards, Harrelson and McConaughey both received nominations for Best Drama Actor. For the 72nd Golden Globe Awards, the series was nominated for Best Miniseries or Television Film, Harrelson and McConaughey were both nominated for Best Actor – Miniseries or Television Film, and Monaghan was nominated for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film. For the 67th Directors Guild of America Awards, Fukunaga was nominated for Outstanding Directing – Drama Series for the episode "Who Goes There".
|Season||Ep. 1||Ep. 2||Ep. 3||Ep. 4||Ep. 5||Ep. 6||Ep. 7||Ep. 8||Average|
|Season||Region 1||Region 2||Region 4|
|1||June 10, 2014||June 9, 2014||June 25, 2014|
|2||January 5, 2016||January 11, 2016||January 6, 2016|