The current “Golden Age of Television” is not so much a revelation that TV can actually be good, but that stories are often more impactful when told the long way. Plot arcs develop on a slow burn, and the audience has time to form intense emotional attachments to even minor characters. On the flip side, even a great television show will spend its initial few hours building up to that magic, pivotal moment that justifies the hype. The Sopranos first breaks out of its shell and becomes a harrowing nocturne in “College,” (season 1, episode 5,) and Breaking Bad clicked during the wrenching intervention scene in “Grey Matter” (also season 1, episode 5.) So a part of me can’t fully dismiss True Detective only after the first episode, even if I feel like I spent an hour of my life watching the unholy union of Twin Peaks and a dick measuring contest.
Dominick Nero at The Gothamist, and other besides, have already pointed out a striking similarities between Twin Peaks and True Detective here—(but watch out, there are spoilers in it. I try to remain spoiler free below.) Nero writes, “Rust Cohle and Marty Hart are arguably the 2014 equivalent of FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper and his gruff buddy, Sheriff Harry S. Truman. The dreamer and the lawman, the weirdo and the straight guy—Lynch made this detective dichotomy a primetime staple over 20 years ago. And although Nic Pizzolatto is by no means a Lynchian storyteller, True Detective owes a lot to the short-lived ’90s series. Themes of existentialism, pagan naturalism, and the futility of old-fashioned Americana (in the north or the south) pervade both shows, making Pizzolatto’s efforts largely indebted to the elusive David Lynch.” In both shows, a young woman’s corpse is discovered, bearing ritualistic, sadomasochistic markings. It turns out she was a prostitute, and involved in some heavy shit. Wacky lawman pays attention to strange details and throws out high-falutin anthropological language, while straight-shooting lawman quietly bemoans the end of human decency.
I couldn’t read Nero’s case in full, because I don’t want to know the ending of True Detective yet. He articulates the stylistic differences between these shows, but perhaps gives too much credit to the post-Katrina nihilism that Rust Cohle and the show are meant to embody. In episode one, Cohle struggles to say anything that the Nietzchean teenager in Little Miss Sunshine wouldn’t have. The Laura Palmer-counterpart is named Dorothea Lange, a fact made even hokier by the show’s bristling self-importance. Twin Peaks is goofy and over the top in many ways, but the over-cooked, baroque Americana of True Detective’s opening sequence takes the cake. It’s like someone watched the first five minutes of True Blood and was like, “This, but darker! And with more strippers!”
Not to mention the first episode’s Frank Miller-esque issues with women. Twin Peaks had the decency to star lots of fascinating women, make Laura Palmer a character, and dramatize the bizarre, domestic fall-out from her death from episode one. Here we have Madonna and Whores, prostitutes and the melodramatic staple of the good-wife back home. And a sassy black secretary, who so far has only been a sounding board for Hart’s even sassier joke. This does not bode well, but there are seven more hours to go. I’ll return with an update upon episode five, and then the finale. It just might take me a few months to get there.