How ‘True Detective’ fell from grace after just one season

Colin Farrell as Detective Ray Velcoro in “True Detective.” CREDIT: Lacey Terrell/HBO.)

Though any critically adored show with a strong debut faces astronomical expectations for its second season, HBO’s “True Detective” — which premiered its second season on Sunday night — has experienced an unusual amount of backlash.

The crime noir anthology, which last year starred Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as troubled cops trying to capture a serial killer in Louisiana, was hailed as groundbreaking. McConaughey and Harrelson knocked it out of the park; the direction was enthralling; and creator Nic Pizzolatto’s slow, existential writing was strangely captivating.

#TrueDetectiveSeason2 was a popular hashtag for casting ideas even after the season ended. It landed a Best Drama nomination at the Emmys. Sure, the show had its fair share of problems and criticism, but it was widely heralded as excellent.

That’s what makes the decidedly lukewarm reception for the second season so surprising — it’s rare that a prestige drama falls so fast. Though the premiere garnered some positive reviews, there are also plenty of headlines like “‘True Detective’ Season 2 is a grim, ridiculous misfire” and “‘True Detective’ gets off to a slow, stumbling start.” More urgently, the show is missing the buzz that would usually storm back with a highly anticipated show.

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Why the lack of excitement? Here are five reasons why “True Detective,” which now stars Vince Vaughn, Rachel McAdams, Colin Farell and Taylor Kitsch, lost its edge so quickly.

– The creator didn’t fix a lot of the problems.

Amid widespread praise, quite a few critics also had some problems with the show, from its terrible treatment of women; dialogue that went from fascinating to utterly ridiculous; to its extreme self-importance. But with only eight episodes in the first season, there wasn’t enough time for those things to grate too much on people’s nerves.

Now, many critics are disappointed that not only did the creator ignore the criticism, many issues are back in full force — as if he zeroed in on the weakest aspects. “It feels like creator Nic Pizzolatto has taken every criticism leveled against True Detective’s first season and built a new show out of it,” The Week explains. That includes the women problem (Vanity Fair: “In the series’s view, women are vessels that bad men fill with their pain and moral rot.”) to the dialogue that simply grows tiresome (USA Today: “It too often sounds ridiculously pretentious and false.”)

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– The show lost momentum after the plagiarism accusations and lack of awards.

Months after “True Detective” wrapped up, a blog accused Pizzolatto of lifting the script’s dialogue from author Thomas Ligotti. (Pizzolatto said he was inspired by Ligotti, but the blog said he didn’t give the author nearly enough credit.) The story blew up so much that HBO was forced to release a statement calling the charges ridiculous, and Pizzolatto also denied it in the strongest terms. That happened around August, or right around the time the TV Academy started its Emmy voting, and a ton of negative headlines flowed into the pop culture-sphere.

HBO also decided to submit the show to the Emmy Awards as a drama instead of a miniseries, leading to tougher competition in a much more prestigious category. The show got 10 nominations, including best drama; best writing; best directing; and lead actor nods for McConaughey and Harrelson. However, “Breaking Bad” mostly crushed the competition, and “True Detective” only landed a major win for directing. The show and lead acting duo was also nominated at all the big shows (Golden Globes, SAG Awards), but mostly went home empty handed. McConaughey finally got the prize at the Critics’ Choice Awards and TCA Awards.

– Viewers really hated the ending of Season 1.

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Many were disappointed by the ending, which was a lot of build-up for a letdown of a conclusion, which led some viewers to look back and question the whole series. As Vox put it, the finale “closed a sprawling, conspiracy-laden case with a fairly basic ‘catch the bad guy’ chase scene” and “proved to be an ’emperor has no clothes’ moment for a lot of people.”

– The plot is needlessly convoluted.

The whole flashback/flash forward thing worked well in Season 1, but now it’s just confusing. “‘True Detective” jumps around and is sadistically unhelpful to the casual viewer who would prefer to know what’s happening as it happens,” Washington Post TV critic Hank Stuever writes.

– Watching miserable characters? Not so fun.

It’s no secret that the TV audience has anti-hero fatigue, and “True Detective” really goes for the whole “troubled protagonist” theme. Every character in “True Detective” Season 2 is miserable all the time, and after awhile, that’s just really draining.