Is True Detective Hurt by its Format?


The anthology format is a delicate thing. The audience is expected to remain faithful not for a continuing story, but instead for an examination of evolving themes. True Detective made a major splash with its first season due in no small part to its characters, namely Rust and Marty. With both Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson up for Emmy awards, the impact of their characters is difficult to argue with. After all the acclaim that these actors and characters have garnered it is now expected of us to move on and make peace with the fact that we won’t be seeing them, or any other detail of season one again.

That can be a hard pill to swallow.

Fargo is heading in the same direction, with creator Noah Hawley stating in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter that if the series gets a second season it would be a new story with new characters. As we’ve discussed here before, Fargo has an easier time of things because it’s based on established property. With True Detective we now have to consider if people will be willing to tune into a show that could be very different from the one that saw in the first

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Everything must start from scratch. We might lose those that were there specifically for Harrelson or McConaughey, but we’ll gain those that are interested in the new leads. This is an interesting situation to be in, and it’s a game that’s going to be difficult for HBO to quit. Even though they’ve stated in the past that they originally didn’t seek out big name actors, it’s hard to not see the pattern here with Collin Farrel reportedly in talks for season two.

The anthology format can only truly work for as long as the material is strong. With no central character to for viewers to become attached to over time, it’s creator Nic Pizzolatto’s writing that has to bear the full weight of expectation. We won’t begin to know how things are going to turn out until season two premiers. But that’s part of what makes the True Detective experience so exciting.