True Detective season 2: The serious drama that takes itself a little too seriously

The first eight episodes of True Detective had their moments of pomposity. True Detective 2 has no such comic relief, says Ellen E Jones

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The return of HBO’s True Detective next week has been accompanied by a Vanity Fair profile of the show’s writer, creator and all-round messianic cult leader Nic Pizzolatto. From this we glean that it’s not only the show which takes itself very seriously indeed, but also, apparently the showrunner: “He was 37 but somehow ageless,” writes journalist Rich Cohen. “He could’ve stepped out of a novel by Steinbeck…His manner that of a man who’d just hiked along the railroad tracks or rolled out from under a box. He is fine-featured, with fierce eyes a little too small for his face. It gives him the aura of a bear or some other species of dangerous animal.”

Fans of True Detective may recognise in this description of idealised masculinity something of Rust Cohle and Marty Hart, the lead characters from the first series. Those first eight episodes had their moments of pomposity - Rust’s nihilistic speeches, the laboured religious allegory in the finale - but these were all mercifully undercut by the in-car, buddy-to-buddy banter. True Detective 2 has no such comic relief.

Set in a fictional city in southern California, it tells a more convoluted story of civic corruption centred around hard-drinking cop Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell), hard-talking detective Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams) and hard-living highway patrolman Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch). A fourth character, mobster-turned-businessman Frank Semyon is played by Vince Vaughn, star of such broad comedies as Wedding Crashers and Old School, but even he has wiped the smile off his face for this role. Perhaps Vaughn is hoping True Detective will do for his career what it did for Matthew McConaughey’s and perhaps it will.


Still, the looming danger for Vaughn and everyone else involved, is that they encounter the silly/serious event horizon, the point on every TV show’s sliding scale of tone, where serious gets so serious it becomes silly again. Stare off soulfully into too many middle-distances, deliver too many lines like “I welcome judgement”, and eventually your audience will stop caring and begin tittering.

Arguably, this moment came for Pizzolatto’s show when the #TrueDetective2 sprung up on Twitter. Those tongue-in-cheek casting suggestions kept the series current, but also undermined its noirish sensibility; crucial, because with the original characters, actors and setting all jettisoned for season two, that sensibility has become the only consistent element. Moreover, whichever big stars were eventually signed up, they could never match the fantasy pairings. Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen? If only…

And yet, come Monday evening, I’ll be watching, because if any show can get away with it, True Detective can. Nic Pizzolatto may not be “the best in the business today” as that Vanity Fair profile claims, but he is the unrivalled master at spouting grandiose nonsense with a straight face — and for that we adore him.

Why you must donate to the Crystal Maze

Alongside being cast as an extra in a Game of Thrones battle scene or getting to lick the spoon on The Great British Bake Off, it’s everyone’s top TV fantasy to appear on The Crystal Maze. Imagine having free run of the ultimate adventure playground that was the set of that 90s game show! Well now you can.

With the help of the show’s original producer Malcolm Heyworth, a team of immersive theatre specialists are proposing to recreate the Crystal Maze and allow entry to the public. At time of writing, they’re already nearly three quarters of the way towards their £500,000 crowdfunding target on, but every little still helps. Currently the Maze’s Ocean Zone has been omitted from the plans because of boring old “health and safety concerns”, but with enough money, surely even taming the oceans is possible.


Man Down, All4

The loss of Rik Mayall was a huge blow to Man Down, but this second series proves it’s still one of the funniest British sitcoms. This week’s side-splitting episode included hairdresser Jo’s (Roisin Conaty) attempts to innovate with hybrid celebrity makeovers. Every fancied a ‘Beyonzelli’ (Beyonce and Liza Minelli)? Or perhaps a ‘Chamantha Mao’ (Chairman Mao and Sex in The City’s Samantha)?

Napoleon, BBC iPlayer

ABBA never wrote a catchy ditty about the Battle of Austerlitz and according to historian and Napoleon fanboy Andrew Roberts, that’s a crying shame. This was one of the emperor’s greatest victories and enabled him to create a huge empire. We hear all about that, plus how Napoleon maintained his power in the second part of this revisionary history doc.

Celebrity Masterchef, BBC iPlayer

It’s only episode one of this year’s Celebrity MasterChef and already Chesney Hawkes is a front-runner. His ricotta donuts topped with blood orange zest and served with a dark chocolate sauce prompted judge Greg Wallace to deliver his most Greg Wallace line to date: “We’ll you’d muller them all day long, wouldn’t you mate?” That means he likes them.

Game of Thrones, Series 5, Blinkbox

Those of us who have faith in Game of Thrones fan theories, know not to be too downhearted by this week’s series finale bloodbath. We can look forward to reliving the entire fifth series, now it’s had an early digital release. But if you’re still in need of comfort while you await the answers of series 6, try googling “R+L=J”.