Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Can we give True Detective season 2 a break?

It seems all the online commenters are in agreement that the unanimous consensus online is that True Detective season two sucked. But was it really that bad? There has been a lot of great insight in the recaps and reviews I’ve been reading as the series progressed (Vulture, Salon, The Atlantic, all the good ones), but I wonder if perhaps the disappointment from the second series stemmed in large part because expectations were so high. For example, season one of True Detective was criticised for being almost exclusively male focussed, with no substantial female characters. Season two seemed to take that criticism on board fully, and address it head it, giving us a compelling female protagonist, and variety of other women, with complex motivations, relevant to the plot. Yes, there are still things that could have been better in that respect, (there always are) but that was a huge step forward, and it’s not common for shows to so overtly attempt to address criticism directed at them. Surely season two deserves some kudos for that. Perhaps Ani’s character was too ‘male’, but I loved watching her – she was always complex and engaging, and that is more than can be said about a lot of portrayals of women on TV.

I also find it funny that so many reviewers found the story too complicated to follow, and needed to go back over it to keep up (I did too!), when there is probably a large section of the audience for whom this is the normal experience of watching these types of shows. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve watched thrillers/mysteries/dramas that I found perfectly simple to follow, yet vast numbers of people required constant explanation of what was going on – just look at half the audience for Game of Thrones! True Detective season 2, whether intentionally or not, gave this same viewing experience to a large group of people who are used to being smarter than the TV shows in front of them, and they hated it! I tried to let go my desire to understand everything that was going on at all times, and exist in the moment of the show, which made it far more enjoyable, and maybe gave me an insight into how the ‘other half’ of the audience experience a lot of TV.

I'm not trying to excuse all the flaws of the most recent True Detective, there are plenty of very valid criticisms, but maybe we should step back and give it some credit. I’d rather watch a show that was bad because it tried too hard to be different and break the mould, than an ok show that stuck to all the boring conventions religiously. True Detective season 2, whether because or in spite of itself, constantly kept we wondering what would happen next, or how it would play out, and that alone makes it decent television.