Tuesday 23 July 2019

True Detective season 3 premiere – the US reviews are in and it's a mixed bag

Mahershala Ali in the first trailer for HBO's third season of True Detective
Mahershala Ali in the first trailer for HBO's third season of True Detective
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

Those of us buoyed by the brilliant first season of True Detective but burned by the abysmal second are awaiting the third with a healthy dose of cynicism.

However, the first episode has aired in the US overnight, ahead of its arrival on Sky Atlantic here tonight, and the reviews are largely positive, with lots of talk of a return to form, and praise for lead Mahershala Ali, although there is also criticism of the similarities to the first season.

That critically acclaimed first season, starring Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey as a pair of Louisiana homicide detectives, landed back in 2014 and was lauded for its sense of time and place, slick direction from Carey Fukunaga, a gut-punch of a story, and a stellar double-header from the leads.

It became HBO's most watched new show in the network's history and put creator and writer Nic Pizzolatto on the TV map.

Stephen Dorff and Mahershala Ali in True Detective season 3. PIC: HBO
Stephen Dorff and Mahershala Ali in True Detective season 3. PIC: HBO

The second season, however, was less well-received.  Set in California, it charted several interconnected stories of officers from three police departments, and starred Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Vince Vaughn, and Taylor Kitsch.

While the actors were generally praised for their performances, the writing failed to hit the compelling heights of the first season, and direction fell to several directors, who replaced Carey Fukunaga after rumoured difficulties between the director and writer first time around.

Predictions for a third season were grim, but reports that Pizzolatto had returned to the show's first season roots, not least in terms of its structure (the first season spanned 17 years, the third also traverses timelines), mean anticipation is high.

The addition of Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali (he won the Best Supporting Actor gong for Moonlight in 2017) in the lead role also raised expectations.  He's also fresh from bagging a Globe for his Supporting Role in Green Book and looks set to earn himself at least another Oscar nod for the same.

Jeremy Saulnier, who has helmed the films Blue Ruin, Hold the Dark, and Green Room, directs the first two episodes.

Ali and Stephen Dorff play two detectives haunted by the case of a pair of kidnapped children in the third season and Ali's performance in the first episode, as a retired detective suffering from Alzheimer's who is asked to remember the details of a homicide case in the 80s, has been singled out for praise.

However, reviews overall are mixed, varying from the quietly enthusiastic, to the downright terrible.

Indiewire gives it a thumbs up overall, praising Jeremy Saulnier's direction in particular, but calling it out on plundering the first season's structure; "If you felt the premiere was a little familiar (or just a little slow), Ali should be enough for even the most skeptical to hold on for another ride."

ScreenRant.com also points to the echoes of season one, "All of this adds up to make True Detective season 3 a return to form for the series. But it’s one that comes so long after a disastrous second season that the desire to reclaim its former success is patently obvious."

Variety's Daniel D'Addario also holds out hope for the third season, "Tightly directed (in its first episodes by Jeremy Saulnier) and plotted, and with a performance at its center that steers away from calling attention to itself, the new “True Detective” transcends hype and amounts to 2019’s first pleasant small-screen surprise."

Den of Geek says the series is back "a little humbler and a little calmer (thanks in large part to the grounding presence of Oscar-winning actor Mahershala Ali), but still plenty high on its own supply. In other words: True Detective is once again a Mood."

For those wondering how things pan out beyond the first two episodes, however, Entertainment Weekly has bad news.  They've seen the first five, and reveal that the third, fourth, and fifth "feel repetitive, dreary, self-serious if not just mopey."

True Detective premieres on Sky Atlantic at 9pm tonight (Monday)

Read more: Mahershala Ali: True Detective season three akin to spirit of first series

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