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True Detective

HBO’s anthology drama returns, still shaggy, philosophical, and fascinating.

True Detective HBO
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

Few shows have experienced as many ups and downs as True Detective, whose Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson-starring first season was one of the most acclaimed programs of the decade, but whose Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn-starring second season ... was not.

The show took more than three years off between season two and season three, as creator Nic Pizzolatto worked to find a story he was passionate about telling (rather than season two’s confusing morass), and it’s resulted in a straightforward, down-to-Earth rural noir, set in Arkansas, spanning 35 years, and grounded by a great performance from Oscar winner Mahershala Ali. There’s probably no way the series can recapture the huge buzz its first season garnered — for one thing, big movie stars doing TV shows is now somewhat common — but the rich and evocative third season does resurrect some of season one’s melancholic magic.

“The new season has some of this same incomprehensibility [of season 1 and 2], but a relatively small amount. Everything about it is toned down.” Willa Paskin, Slate

Metacritic score: 70 out of 100

Where to watch: New episodes of True Detective air Sundays at 9 pm Eastern on HBO, with previous episodes and seasons available on HBO’s streaming platforms.