True Detective (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD) tells a single, self-contained story told over eight hour-long episodes, technically a miniseries but more like an original novel for television: focused rather than sprawling, intimate rather than epic. Created and written by novelist Nic Pizzollato and directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, it stars Matthew McConaughey as Detective Rust Cohl, a smart detective with a fierce psychological insight to criminals but poor collaborative and social skills, and Woody Harrelson as Detective Marty Hart, a family man with a more traditional approach to police work but rather loose definition of fidelity.
They aren’t so much an odd couple set of partners as simply colliding personalities who have to work to get along enough to solve cases, but they both agree that something is not right with their current case, which has similarities with other unsolved murders, cryptic clues with cult dimensions, and a murky trail that leads them to a regional church, a white supremacist organization, and a legacy of corrupt cops who have muddied the waters with bad police work and cover-ups. It jumps back and forth through time, framed by interviews with the two detectives years after the investigation ended without an arrest, and seems to be heading into supernatural territory, but ultimately the scariest revelation of the story is how such evil can continue for decades because of corruption, special interests, and institutional incompetence.
Harrelson and McConaughey inhabit rich, complicated, terribly flawed characters and Michelle Monaghan plays Hart’s wife, frustrated by his affairs and his lies, but also unable to deal with his failure to communicate as the case takes a toll on his psyche. It is beautifully written and directed, with haunting imagery and challenging subject matter, and it delves into dark territory. Not just the worlds they investigate but their own instincts and impulses and self-destructive choices. Pizzollato is working on a second series which will feature new characters and an entirely new story. Not a sequel as much as a follow-up television novel in the same spirit.
Eight episodes on DVD and Blu-ray, with commentary on two episodes by creator Nic Pizzollato and select collaborators, short “Inside the Episode” featurettes on each episode, the brief “Making True Detective,” interviews featurettes with stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson and creator / writer Nic Pizzollato with music director T Bone Burnett, and deleted scenes. Both feature an UltraViolet Digital HD copy of the season.