No one wants to be the person who points out that the emperor is naked.
Which is probably why the early reviews for Season 2 of “True Detective” — at least from those critics to whom HBO deigned to give an early look — were cautiously positive.
The general vibe was that the new edition, with an entirely new story and cast, started slowly but everyone should probably just hang in there.
But after three episodes have aired, we must declare the emperor’s new wardrobe to be decidedly threadbare.
“True Detective” Season 2 is bad. It’s not worth your time.
I completely understand the reluctance to give up on the show. Season 1 was remarkably good television — at least until that silly final episode — pushed to excellence by movie-worthy directing, an interesting story told along two timelines and one remarkable character in Rust Cohle, brought to life in a great performance by Matthew McConaughey.
Cohle was unlike any character we had seen to date, a police detective more interested in ontology and epistemology than in solving crimes. He was kept grounded by a down-to-earth partner in Marty Hart, played by McConaughey’s real-life best friend Woody Harrelson.
But Cohle could be too much at times, too artificial a character even for ambitious fiction. It was only McConaughey’s acting and the chemistry with Harrelson that kept the character from flying off to PretentiousLand.
Season 2, sadly, contains a cast full of Rust Cohles. Almost no one utters a line of dialogue that would be said in real life. Most are career criminals or cops barely hanging onto their jobs, but they manage to speak like philosophy professors — when it suits the script — before they guzzle some more whiskey or go on profane rants.
The action has shifted from Louisiana to Southern California, where the city manager of the corrupt industrial town of Vinci — a lightly fictionalized Vernon — has been murdered. The killing upsets the investment plans of gangster Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn), and brings together by convenient circumstances three investigators from separate jurisdictions, played by Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams and Taylor Kitsch.
Only McAdams’ Ani Bezzerides approaches believability. The others are weighed down with heavy loads of psychological torment, ridiculous behavior and bad accents. The side characters are worse.
The plot, which in theory revolves around figuring out who killed the Vinci city manager, is piled up with side stories, red herrings and hapless tricks. Farrell’s character apparently was killed at the end of episode 2, but episode 3 began with us learning that the gun was loaded with rubber buckshot.
Season 2 is just as fake as those pellets, all pretentious ornaments trying desperately to disguise that there is nothing underneath.