So the first person beaten up was a journalist, the most prominent bare asses were male (the dude at the urinal was a nice touch), and your Big Tough Guy is actually Rachel McAdams, who gave the (verbal) business to like half a dozen people and also appears to be the Bobby Shmurda of knives. Verily, oh internet, True Detective has registered your concerns about its Woman Issues and overall lit-bro hyper-pretentiousness, which is not to say the show agrees with you, or that you’ll like how it responds. The bad news is that Rachel McAdams’ character’s name is “Antigone Bezzerides.”
A fun thing about prestige TV in particular, for whatever reason, is that in the second season you find out what the showrunners thought everyone liked about the first season, and it makes for high art when they guess right but much higher entertainment value when they guess wrong. (This happens with albums and movie and such, too, but maybe the difference is that in this medium, you get less than a year to guess.) “What people want is a bunch of sallow-looking famous people brooding to whatever T. Bone Burnett is listening to these days,” is the conclusion True Detective writer/mastermind Nic Pizzolatto evidently reached, based on last night’s somber, silly, neither totally ineffective nor particularly promising premiere. We’re in dead-end industrial-wasteland California now, which means everyone’s gonna try way harder to be all noir-ish, which is bad news for everyone else. Somber silliness is part of what made this show a Whole Thing last year, sure, but only a part, a third at best, and the other two pieces of the Triforce—Matthew McConaughey’s superhuman ability to make goofball nihilism sing and a credulous, super-jazzed online mob vying to conspiracy-theorize the whole shebang to greatness—are long gone. This is not a show built to avoid a backlash, or to react to that backlash with dignity. Season two might turn out to be terrible, but it will definitely be hilarious.
Hit it, boys!
Emotions! Vices! Virile repression! Here is the show’s macho-melancholy ethos distilled; your litmus test is whether you chuck your remote at the television when Colin Farrell forlornly exhales right as the witchy singer lady sings, And a lifetime goes up / In smoke, or you can’t chuck your remote because you don’t have a free hand. (I have no qualms with the witchy singer lady herself, the titanically morose soundtrack being one of this show’s minor strengths; Leonard Cohen was far from the worst-case scenario, theme-song-wise, though “Jazz Police” would’ve been funnier.) (Come to think of it, this scene is a better portrayal of what a rock critic’s average Tuesday night is like than anything that happened in Almost Famous.) (The worst-case scenario theme-song-wise was either Marilyn Manson or the Doors.)
Yes, Colin Farrell is supposed to be the season’s Big Tough Guy, but he’s gonna have to do a lot better than just kicking the asses of an investigative journalist and a suburban dad who named his son Aspen, and he’s gonna need way sicker burns than referring to Aspen as “Ass-Pen.” (My closed captioning took great care to add the hyphen to make sure I got this joke, which is precisely why I pay Time-Warner $138 a month.) These minor antics aside, the season premiere was both cheerless and mostly actionless; the episode’s catalytic event, in which a corrupt and tremendously porny city manager was blinded/castrated/Weekend at Bernies’d, mercifully mostly transpired offscreen. (Save the Weekend at Bernies part.) The guy from Battleship (I’m aware of Taylor Kitsch’s CV, but to me he’ll always be the guy from Battleship) is a state trooper with Boner Issues and War Issues and (it’s safe to assume, I think) Woman Issues. Vince Vaughn is a repressed and malicious former underground kingpin likely to do the whole “sulking with occasional bursts of ultraviolence” thing. Everyone is super crabby and one macabre alt-country song away from kneecapping someone else. The only thing we know for sure is that it won’t end well and might not be portrayed all that well, either.
Actually, never mind: It’s perfectly obvious who the Big Tough Guy is here, and that’s Nic Pizzolatto himself, who is feeling himself to a nuclear degree, who is on one of the great extended I Wrote a Hit Play tirades of the 21st century, who is still inspiring bonkers magazine profiles with lines like, “When I was a boy and dreamed of literature, this is how I imagined a writer—a kind of outlaw, always ready to fight or go on a spree.” Here is my favorite picture of him. True Detective is the unmistakable work of a boy who dreams of literature, who wants all his dialogue to sound like he read it off a leather jacket (“Never do anything out of hunger—not even eat” is pretty good, though), who is hellbent on hard-boiling these eggs until they’re hard (and as appetizing) as stone. The real mystery this season is how batshit he plans on getting; if he aims to go the full Bukowski/McCarthy/Ellroy/Chandler/Del Rey, and if he plans on favoring the Moping Badass routine to the exclusion of all the other, way livelier stuff that made season one so befuddling and beloved; it’s hard to tell if this show would be better if he had far less self-regard, or substantially worse. Here’s his idea of a Father’s Day card, while you mull that over.
Listen, I’m hoping the beatings continue and morale improves. The mass hysteria that swelled around #truedetectiveseason1 is one of the stranger and radder cultural phenomena of our time, when we all fell down a Reddit-prognisticator mine shaft and downloaded the 1895 experimental short-story collection The King in Yellow for free off Amazon (but never opened it), and generally convinced ourselves that the solution to the mystery—the revelation of the True Detective—was gonna be on some Empire Strikes Back shit. Whereupon the killer turned out to be a central-casting Random Crazy Inbred Erudite Southern Guy. It was the old LOST thing, where the crackpot conjecture and frame-by-frame meta-analysis got so out of hand that there was no way what actually happened on the actual show wouldn’t be a colossal letdown. (Though we’ll always have The Tracking Shot.)
This time around, we may never get high enough to fall nearly that far. This show only works if it convinces you that it’s about something bigger and weirder and smarter than uglied-up pretty people lamenting that true hell is other people. Consequently, the best you can say about last night’s glum tomfoolery is that it seeded a bunch of Vague, Menacing Larger Entities —the evil city bureaucracy, the creepy religious institution where everyone sits around musing about the nature of pornography, whatever gonzo malevolence the dude from Battleship turns out to be up to— specifically designed to breed cornball “Don Draper is really D.B. Cooper”-type action. Most TV shows are pretty dumb if you think about them too hard, but this one gets toxically absurd only if you stop: It’s paramount that you nice viewers at home add levity and depth, or you might realize the thing onscreen never had much of either. They’ve got the Serious and Important part down now, but it’s up to us to make this thing Fun.
Rob Harvilla is Deadspin’s culture editor. Yes, there is one. He’s on Twitter.
The Concourse is Deadspin’s home for culture/food/whatever coverage. Follow us at@DSconcourse.