We've read the reviews that dropped Wednesday, and it looks like fans of Season 1 can officially get excited.
"True Detective" returns to HBO in two short weeks after a three-and-a-half-year hiatus, and based on the reviews we've read so far, it was worth the wait.
Creator Nic Pizzolatto teamed up with director Cary Fukunaga to blow away the majority of viewers with an incredible Season 1, and then disappointed fans hungry for more with the sloppy seconds they called Season 2. It was so bad, people had pretty much given up on the TV series, expecting HBO to just quietly move on. But when the network announced that Oscar winner Mahershala Ali ("Moonlight") was cast as the lead for Season 3, interest was immediately reinvigorated, and even more so after the first teaser trailer dropped last August while HBO subscribers were busy obsessing over another moody miniseries, "Sharp Objects."
The previews for this new batch of eight episodes promised a return to form of the first season, in which Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson played partners, haunted by their own demons, investigating murders with occult flare in the American south. According to critics who've seen anywhere from two to five episodes, that's exactly what we're getting.
Critics seem to unanimously agree Season 3 is most definitely better than Season 2, but are mixed on its actual greatness. It seems Fukunaga's impeccable directing skills are missed -- although critics did shoutout filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier ("Blue Ruin") for his work behind the camera on the first two episodes -- and some critics faulted it for having too much in common with Season 1. One thing everyone can agree on, however, is the acting. Ali carries the series as small-town Arkansas detective Wayne Hays, with multiple reviews describing his performance as "mesmerizing," while co-star Stephen Dorff is also getting props for portraying Ali's partner and Carmen Ejogo is earning praise for playing his love interest.
"True Detective" Season 3 premieres on Jan. 13 on HBO. Read on to see what critics have written about it.
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... Taking the best of what's come before and reinventing it in streamlined, unfussy fashion, "True Detective," Season 3, cracks the case.
The third season, which premieres on Jan. 13 after a nearly three-year hiatus, has been hyped thanks in part to the inclusion of Deadwood creator David Milch, Green Room director Jeremy Saulnier, and Oscar-winning actor Mahershala Ali in the lead role. The result is a season that, at least in the first two episodes — which played to a handful of lucky Alamo Drafthouse audiences in preview screenings in late December — returns largely to the successful formula of the first, in which clever flashbacks and small-town secrets stoke the fires of conspiracy and mysticism... Still, 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.
We're miles from the trashfire excess of season 2. Gone are the days of Colin Farrell's cocaine pull-ups, Rachel McAdams' decorative knife dummy, and Vince Vaughn's profound soliloquies about pure golden Stan. The new somber mystery will satisfy fans seeking the old True Detective high, and the Ozarks setting will surely please your cousin who loves Ozark. The acting is very strong. Scoot McNairy and Mamie Gummer are believably demolished as the missing kids' parents. Ali finds reservoirs of warmth in his chilly, paranoid outsider. Dorff's a laconic delight. And Carmen Ejogo gives a compelling performance as Amelia, a local schoolteacher who becomes embroiled with the case — and with Wayne.
Director Jeremy Saulnier gave the world 2013's Blue Ruin, one of the pulpiest (and bleakest, and funniest) crime films of the decade. He helms the first two episodes of this season, and he brings a lyrical quality to the bleak happenings. One memorable shot of a search party walking through the woods resembles a boggy fairy tale hellscape.
But Saulnier departs the series after the second hour. And the episodes that follow (I've seen through the fifth) feel repetitive, dreary, self-serious if not just mopey.
Given a 3.5-year respite to either go fallow or diminish expectations, True Detective returns to HBO in January with a third season that may be hailed as a full comeback by those with a short memory, but actually falls into that vast middle ground as less nuanced and rich than the start of the first season yet still in most ways superior to whatever you've been trying to repress about the second. 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... It sometimes takes shows five or 10 years to show you their best and worst sides, but True Detective arrives for a third installment seeming to have already established its peaks and valleys. As a vehicle for actors and mood, few shows are better, and with Ali front and center, the new season is easy to get interested in, despite a lackluster mystery that may make it a struggle to stay interested.
"True Detective" creator Nic Pizzolatto has taken the right lessons from the successes of Season 1 and failures of Season 2 to pen a highly engaging whodunnit, one which borrows heavily from the show's debut season to great effect... Unlike Season 1, there isn't an overarching mythology to the potential perpetrator in this new season, and yet, there are creepy elements (like straw dolls) and some hints to a larger conspiracy peppered throughout the first five episodes (out of eight) available for review. Each episode ends with a very fine cliffhanger, but the overall pace is slow and rich, building an interesting, layered, and very personal story. The turning points of the case aren't dragged out — there's no time, so the narrative dolls things out at a reasonable pace — and T Bone Burnett's soundtrack is again a perfect, twangy accompaniment that sets a gloomy, uneasy mood. It may not be as arresting or iconic as the first season, but time is a flat circle. True Detective has come back around with a true return to form.
"True Detective" Season 3 is good. Whether or not you believe the first season to be an untouchable classic or an overrated but well-acted cop show, Nic Pizzolatto's new episodes are a big step up from a second season as muddled and meaningless as that water stain above Vince Vaughn's bed. With strong performances all-around — and a flat-out remarkable turn from Mahershala Ali — HBO's third season benefits from reliable genre elements, a compelling central story, and aesthetics as lush as they are eerie.