Every week, a handful of Vox's writers will discuss the second season of True Detective. Before we begin, check out our recap of the season two premiere, as well the archive of our entire discussion to date. Joining culture editor Todd VanDerWerff will be deputy culture editor Jen Trolio and more.
Jen Trolio: Throughout the past few years, "anthology" TV series have experienced a resurgence of sorts, ultimately becoming one of the industry's hottest and most enduring trends. After American Horror Story successfully hit the reset button in its second season (which debuted in 2012) by starting over with a new premise and many of the same actors returning in new roles, several networks ordered various permutations of the format. And last year, two of the most successful anthology TV series to date, FX’s Fargo and HBO’s True Detective, made a strong case for ordering even more: both told open-and-shut stories that ranked among the best television of 2014 according to critics and viewers alike.
Sadly, True Detective didn’t exactly wow in its season two premiere — a not altogether unexpected outcome, given that prestige cable series whose inaugural seasons appear on multiple year-end top 10 lists have a way of generating hype, and hype has way of generating disappointment. But as you said, Todd, "The Western Book of the Dead" wasn’t just a season premiere; it was a pilot, and thus it faced many of the same challenges that the pilot of any brand new TV series faces, like having to establish an entirely new story and cast of characters while convincing unfamiliar viewers to come back for more.
What’s unique about the situation that True Detective now finds itself in is that it appears to be stuck in somewhat of a lose-lose proposition. Lots of people who were quite enamored with the show in season one are feeling disappointed, unsure of whether season two will ultimately prove itself worthwhile, just as lots more people who didn’t watch season one but were encouraged by their friends or Twitter chatter or whatever to check out season two are shrugging, wondering what makes True Detective so special.
I’m part of the latter camp; I kind of missed the boat on season one, and even though it's only eight episodes long and I keep saying I'm going to sit down one Saturday and marathon it, I have yet to actually do so. But until I cross that item off my pop culture to-do list, my unfamiliarity with Marty Hart and Rust Cohle shouldn't have any bearing on my enjoyment of season two — theoretically. Indeed, isn't that kind of the point of an anthology?
I didn't love or hate True Detective's season two premiere; it had its moments, but mostly I found it kind of boring. Not much stood out to me as a reason to commit to watching the show for the rest of the summer (not even Taylor Kitsch's bare butt). Likewise, it didn't leave me feeling any particular sense of urgency to go back and watch season one in search of whatever brilliance I have yet to experience. And that has me wondering whether the series — and its anthological peers — are at a distinct disadvantage in terms of growing and/or retaining viewership over time.
Since the only continuity from one season of True Detective to the next is the series' title, I should be able jump right into season two. But given that it's essentially a new show that I don't feel any loyalty to because I didn't invest any time in season one, am I prone to being more critical of it than I might otherwise be?
Yes, we're only one episode in, and as Todd wrote, series creator Nic Pizzolatto could certainly turn things around as season two progresses — but I'm definitely not compelled to stick around and find out. Would I be more forgiving if I'd watched season one? Put another way, does having seen season one matter more than I thought (or more than it should), even though season two is a whole new beast? And perhaps most importantly, what does that say about the potential positives and pitfalls that anthology TV series might benefit or suffer from over time?
Read the recap. Come back soon for more discussion.