First off: this is a (relatively) sincere article, and not just Buzzfeed-esque a list of screencaps with the hashtag #truedetectiveseason2 next to them to be clever. If you haven’t watched any of HBO’s latest goldmine True Detective, a glance around social media might have you thinking that the second season could basically be about any two characters from anything sitting in a car, or not. Well, the actual show is an ambitious and moody anthology miniseries thing, which will consist of multiple seasons of standalone stories told over the course of several episodes. The first season was the creepy, sad, and brutal saga of two Louisiana cops, the venal “guy’s guy” Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Nietzschean whackadoodle Rustin Cohle (Matthew McConaughey), attempting to solve a series of occult themed murders. Since we’re getting a new story next time, the psychosphere is wide open for all sorts of bizarre ideas to some rushing in.
If series creator Nic Pizzolatto is reading, I’ve got a few suggestions. And no, none of them contains Cthulhu, at least not directly…
9) More People Saying the Word “Detective” a Lot
Ok, this one’s not so serious. Something about Woody Harrelson’s diction made the word “detective” sound like he was a starship captain issuing a thoughtful command to his crew. If I were casting I’d choose based on that alone. As long as the word “true” never proceeds it in dialogue, this is a fine thing to keep up, especially for the viewers with extremely short-term memory who need to be reminded what kind of show they’re watching every few minutes.
8) A New Opening Title Sequence
Probably the most needless entry on this list, because it would be a little awkward if the second season still opened with Woody Harrelson’s face floating around. But more than that, I think the intro should try for a different tactic altogether to reflect whatever new story the show will take on. Like all HBO openings, it’s very impressive the first time, but by the sixth episode you’re ready to click forward and get on with it. It would be cool if they started taking a page from the Game of Thrones intro and tweaking the details a little to sprinkle in some new clues each episode. The theme song can stick around, though, because I’m sure its psychedelic lyrics about mountain cats and rattlesnakes and “poison creosote” won’t make any more sense next time, no matter what the plot is.
Also, while I don’t expect many to back me up on this, I do agree with the New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum that the shots of women’s butts are a little gratuitous. Cohle and Hart certainly aren’t James Bond, even if the credits seem to think they are. It would be one thing if the show revolved around strip clubs, but there actually really isn’t that much sex or even nudity, at least compared to most HBO fare (my own pitch for an HBO show would be called Guys Wear Suits While Women Get Naked). Plus, those heels just look uncomfortable, unless the owner of both them and the corresponding buttocks are into that kind of thing.
7) Fresh, Different Setting That Isn’t Louisiana
According to director Cary Fukunaga, the show was originally meant to be set in the Ozarks, of all places, but this apparently was changed due to “production realities.” I’m guessing one of those was the “reality” that Ozark crime drama doesn’t sell that well, because while Louisiana is nice and evocative and all, as a location for spooky murders and crime it’s kind of been done to death. More than anything, the swamps and fishermen and bad accents just made me crave a Gabriel Knight miniseries, which I’ll just have to cram into the overflowing “Things Only I Want That Will Never Happen” file. Either that or a crossover with another HBO mainstay called True Blood Detective, which would probably be no less ludicrous than any of the other storylines on that show.
How about this for next season: the creative team just chucks a dart at a map of the US and try to make wherever it lands seem like the scariest damn place ever. If these guys can milk the same sense of dread and mystery from, say, Rhode Island that they did from the bayou, then you can color me impressed.
6) Three “POV” Characters, and at Least One of Them Is a Woman
You may have heard that Pizzolatto recently pulled what I believe is called a Reverse Moffat via Twitter, in which he hinted to his fans that they might get a new central female character in the second season and maybe more than two main detectives…before the message was redacted. Let’s hope the idea doesn’t die with that tweet, because I firmly think the second season should try to distinguish itself from the first, and nothing would be a more decisive change than making one or more of the central lawmen a law-woman. Truth be told, I’m not married to the three POVs idea, but assuming we’re in for a completely new format, then I don’t see why they can’t just go whole hog for a different dynamic altogether.
5) A Central Cast That Hits That Career Sweet Spot
Part of the reason Harrelson and McCounaghey have done so well in their roles here is that they’re both well-known, established stars that still hadn’t done any serial dramas like this before. Finding their successors will be tough in a variety of ways, and obviously HBO should cast whomever’s right for the script. But if they net some names that are similarly just ready for this degree of exposure and obsessive fandom (which apparently includes President Obama), then the show could hit another home run.
Or the producers could just sort through all the Tweeted pics and choose two actors from them at random, which would be terrible in terms of quality but would also finally give us the Tamera Mowry and Fozzie Bear thriller we’ve been clamoring for. Helen Mirren and Gillian Anderson would be my choice, but you could probably make that happen already through enough clever Youtube editing.
4) Experimental Production Decisions That Have More to Do With the Season’s Story Arc
Sometimes I feel like the only person on the Internet who had a middle-of-the-road reaction to the famous Big Fucking Tracking Shot from the end of episode 4. I mean, yeah, it was well produced, but it wasn’t exactly Russian Ark or anything. And that entire sequence, while tense, is more or less just a side mission that gets swept under the rug by next episode and doesn’t really have that much to do with the Yellow King caper itself. If it had been something with more emotional consequences for the larger story, rather than a detour weirdly reminiscent of a level in Mass Effect, it might have had more of an impact on me.
The best thing about the BFTS was what it represented in terms of True Detective’s future. If the show is willing to do things this ambitious, maybe that could lead it to some truly unpredictable places later on. I’d heartily encourage whoever directs the next season to push the envelope even more, as long as it stems naturally from the story. How about a whole episode done in one take? How about a scene where everyone speaks in Aramaic for some reason? Hell, go ahead and go all Five Obstructions on this thing if you want. I’ll tag along.
3) More Bizarre Dialogue and Unexpected Character Beats
As others have noted, the best parts of the show are often the nifty little nuggets of personality that creep in through the sidelines of the narrative. The prime examples are the conversations the two principals have while driving. But there’s another one that sticks with me: the opening of the fifth episode where Marty beats up some teens who had a threesome with his underage daughter. We fully expect that kind of macho act from him at this point. But the scene right after, where he goes out to his car and throws up? Not as expected, and says a lot more about him than many of his monologue or confessional scenes ever could.
So, yeah. More cop vomit, I guess. Not literally, but you know what I mean. I hope.
2) A Few Links to the First Season’s Mythology (but Only a Few)
While I do want the show to stick to its guns and have self-contained seasons, I also think it could benefit from leaving little breadcrumbs in there referring to the Hart/Cohle era. They don’t have to be obvious, and I’m certainly not hoping for a guest appearance by the Lawnmower Guy or anything. Just a little sumpn’ sumpn’ would be nice, is all; even a freeze-frame style Easter Egg. Maybe there’s a devil net in the corner of some crack house our new cops bust, or somebody gets a John Deere mug for Christmas, or David Letterman shows up and does a version of his “Uma/Oprah” routine with Carcosa and Hector Barbossa from Pirates of the Carribean. Not that. But something like that.
1) The Show Should Go off the Deep End, but Not in a Way We’re all Expecting
So far, this list probably seems like a mass of contradictions. Be different, but not that different. Keep the same tone, but change everything. The truth is, the strength of these first eight episodes have been the way they marry poignant emotional details with the archetypes of crime pulp: as long as Nicky P keeps that up, he should just chase his spirit gator wherever the hell it takes him. True Detective’s first season will probably be regarded as a genre-straddling classic for some time, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a wind-up to something even better. It’s great that it’s been compared to Lost and Twin Peaks, but it has the best chance of survival if it just continues to be its own silly beast while staying true to the viewer, as Nick said in a recent interview.
I mean, maybe a little Cthulhu wouldn’t hurt…
More By Andy Hughes