True Detective: Season 1 review (Blu-ray)

We have been in a new Golden Age of television for about the past 20 years or so. It began with HBO investing money in great writers to create sparkling orignal programmes. Thanks to HBO we have had gems such as The Larry Sanders Show, The Sopranos, Oz, Sex and the City, Carnivàle, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Deadwood, Rome, Entourage, Flight of the Conchords, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Veep, Girls, Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones.

The success of HBO's programming both critically and with audiences saw other cable companies also begin to take risks and develop smarter, bolder and edgier shows (Showtime's Weeds and Dexter; AMC's Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead) and finally the traditional networks took notice and also followed suit – such as NBC with Hannibal.

Some people are now saying that this golden age is over, but it's easy to dissuade such an argument by simply pointing such people towards True Detective, the latest crime drama to come from HBO. But to call this series just a crime drama is to do it a great disservice. On the surface, True Detective is simply the tale of two police officers - Detective Rust Cohle (McConaughey) and Detective Marty Hart (Harrelson) - who are on the hunt for a serial killer in Louisiana in 1995. But the story of the investication is told in flashback, as Cohle and hart are interviewed about the now-reopened case by another pair of detectives in 2012.

On the surface, True Detective is simply the tale of two police officers – Rust Cohle (McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Harrelson) – who are on the hunt for a serial killer in Louisiana in 1995. But the story of the investigation is told in flashback, as Cohle and Hart are interviewed about the now-reopened case by another pair of detectives in 2012. The two are no longer partners – are they even still friends? – and as we learn durig the flashbacks, they are not at all alike. Cohle is single, quiet and intense; a very private individual who has a somewhat gloomy outlook on life. Hart on the other hand is married with two daughters, likes to speak his mind ... and has a pretty short fuse. Both men are very good cops, though Hart is pretty much by-the-book while Cohle works more on instinct. And both men have their secrets.

That True Detective can attract two lead actors of the calibre of Harrelson and McConaughey says a lot about the material. Here are two guys who could easily be earning several million dollars for a Hollywood movie, yet they have chosen to do an eigh-part TV series. And it's easy to see what attracted them to it. The writing is exquisite; the story is dark and compelling. And the acting from both men is sublime. The whole series is shot through with the metaphysical themes of light and dark, good and evil; and there's a rising sense of tension and dread as it moves along. It looks magnificent (thanks to the wonderful cinematography of Adam Arkapaw), and that is enhanced by the terrific score (and eerie, noirish opening theme song) from T Bone Burnett. 

True Detective is easily one of the best police dramas ever seen on TV; hell, it's one of the best TV series to come along in quite some time. This is one of those shows that, the less you know about it before you watch it, the better. There are secrets and surprises applenty to discover here as the story unfolds over its eight episodes. This is a show that absolutely defines the term "must-see TV".

EXTRAS ★★★½ Disc One: Inside the Episode (12:19), which consists of three individual featurettes that focus on the first three episodes and are viewable separately or together. Show creator Pizzolatto and director Cary Fukunaga discuss the plot, setting, themes, visuals, characters, and relationships of each episode. Pus there is a deleted scene from episode 3 (6:16). Disc Two: audio commentaries by writer Pizzolatto and composer Burnett on episodes 4 and 5, with executive producer Scott Stephens joining on episode 5; Inside the Episode featurettes dedicated on episodes 4, 5, and 6 (14:04). Disc Three: the featurette Making True Detective (15:02), a behind-the-scenes documentary with on-set footage and interviews with the cast and crew; Inside the Episode featurettes on episodes 7 and 8 (9:38); a Deleted Scene (3:40) from episode 8; the four-part featurette Up Close With Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson (8:03); the featurette A Conversation with Nic Pizzolatto and T Bone Burnett (14:25).

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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