- Warning: Minor spoilers ahead for “True Detective” season three.
- HBO’s “True Detective” anthology series is back and critics have mixed reviews.
- Many are rejoicing, because it’s far better than the second season.
- But others think that’s a low bar, and instead it’s simply redundant of the first season.
- “True Detective” returns to HBO on Sunday at 9 p.m. ET.
After a lengthy hiatus following the notoriously messy second season, HBO’s “True Detective” crime series is back for a third installment. This time starring Mahershala Ali, Steph Dorff, and Carmen Ejogo, the season is a standalone from the previous two.
Taking place in Arkansas, the story revolves around the disappearance of two young kids. Ali’s character, Wayne Hays, takes center stage as a brilliant investigator with reconnaissance experiences thanks to his time served in the Vietnam War.
The story is told across three different time frames (1980, 1990, and 2015) as the case is opened, re-opened, and then documented for a true crime series TV show. Let’s see what critics are saying.
The new story has a lot in common with the first season – for good or bad
“So let’s go ahead and address this right away: ‘True Detective’ creator Nic Pizzolatto has taken the right lessons from the successes of season one and failures of season two to pen a highly engaging whodunnit, one which borrows heavily from the show’s debut season to great effect.”
“‘True Detective’ season three – which made the first five episodes of the season available for review – is more than a return to Season one’s spooky, winding excellence. It tackles different issues to previous seasons and focuses more sharply on issues and realities that were left unexamined in its previous iterations.”
“The first five episodes are stirring entertainment, steadying a very rocky boat and teasing an end that feels far more likely to exceed expectations than spoil a strong setup. ‘True Detective’ is good again, and that alone is worth celebrating.”
“If you score ‘True Detective’ season three on originality, it fails – for repeating both its own history and the already-dated cable genre of glum loners confronting the evils men do. But if you treat it as a do-over – if the series, like one of its haunted antiheroes, is retracing its steps to try to get things right – then it’s fine. Often quite good. Far more consistent.”
Some say the choice to mimic the first season leaves season three with the same problems “True Detective” had before
“Is being better than the second season really an accurate use of the word ‘better’? Is being ‘worse’ than the first season all that bad? Then I wondered what I would think if neither of the previous seasons had existed, and I realized-I probably wouldn’t be thinking about it at all.”
“Season three is marginally better than season two, at the very least. But despite a tremendous lead performance from Mahershala Ali, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of season one, either. More than anything, it feels unnecessary, hitting the same self-consciously grim notes we’ve seen plenty of times before.”
“Despite ‘True Detective’ season three’s attempts to recreate what worked with season one, the show still lacks what made that season so memorable: a clear vision. Pizzolatto’s writing was often good, and the performances – particularly McConaughey’s – were great. But the secret weapon of that first ‘True Detective’ was Cary Joji Fukunaga.”
“Season three, which is set in the Ozarks in the ’80s, ’90s, and the recent past, doesn’t answer that nagging, fundamental question about the series – namely, what, exactly, is ‘True Detective,’ besides a collection of stories involving cops and murderers, encrusted with literary affectations? It also has that familiar post-millennium-TV problem of seeming as if it doesn’t have enough story to justify its running time.”
The plot is too slow for others
“Unfortunately, it’s no big surprise that things drag along in a very ‘True Detective’ sort of way, at least until the season is more than halfway finished (there are eight episodes in all, five of which were made available to critics). Even when the show is viewed with an open mind, the experience is a lot like coming home and discovering you forgot to set your slow cooker to actually cook the meal.”
Mahershali Ali delivers a fantastic performance
“He’s great – simultaneously charismatic and vulnerable, kind and self-destructive, in every era – and the Hays/Reardon relationship allows Pizzolatto to do some interesting and relatively nuanced work about growing up black in a place where you’re always looked at as something alien.”
“At the very least, the new ‘True Detective’ season is a three-tiered showcase for Mahershala Ali, who stays consistently mesmerizing even if the mystery around him does not.”
Fans of the first season should be prepared to dive in with both feet
“The premiere episodes show a lot of promise plotwise, teasing out a season that gets to the uniquely spooky roots that hooked audiences in the first go-round. If the devil really has come to Arkansas, we’re happy to fall under his spell.”
“True Detective” season three premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.
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