Closed Captioning

As we have watched the last few episodes of True Detective — which I think has really picked up lately, incidentally — Kish and I have had the same conversation several times:

“What did he say?”

“I don’t know — I couldn’t hear it.”

“You know, I hear that a lot of people are watching this show with the closed captioning feature on their TVs activated.”

The Vince Vaughn character, in particular, seems to specialize in muttering things under his breath, menacingly but incomprehensibly, but we have have trouble understanding many characters on that show.  Is there something about the sound quality of True Detective that just sucks, or have the producers decided that whispered statements fit better with the dark themes of the show?  Maybe the “never mind” theme music is supposed to suggest to viewers that the dialogue really doesn’t matter much, anyway.

When you can’t hear the dialogue on a TV show, there aren’t any good choices.  If you’re watching a recording, you can try to rewind, but you need the deftness of a surgeon to move back to just the right spot without overshooting, and it really wrecks the flow of the narrative even if you are successful.  Or, you can crank the volume up to senior citizen retirement home levels, give up any pretense of clinging to remaining youth, and start going to restaurants at “Early Bird Special” times and using the word “whippersnapper.”  Or, you can activate the closed captioning option — which will expose your obvious lack of technological know-how in trying to find and turn on the option in the first place.

I have no doubt that my hearing acuity has declined over the years, but I wouldn’t say that I’ve got a hearing problem — at least, I don’t think I do.  Does any young whippersnapper out there have trouble following the dialogue on True Detective, too?  Speak up, will you?

Advertisements

The New True

The new season of True Detective premiered on HBO Sunday night.

It’s got an impossible act to follow.  Last year, with Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey playing two mismatched detectives on the trail of a twisted killer, True Detective was a riveting powerhouse.  McConaughey’s character, Rustin Cohle,was so finely crafted and unique, and the chemistry between Harrelson and McConaughey was so powerful, that you wondered how the producers of the show could possibly follow it up.

And the answer is . . . they can’t, and they aren’t really trying to do so.  This year, the cast is different, the setting is different, and the storyline is different, with no quasi-religious serial killer lurking — at least, not so far.  Unlike last season, where the discovery of a disturbing mystical killing, the use of constant flashbacks, and Cohle’s unexplained change from straight arrow cop to alcoholic longhair made the first episode immediately riveting, this year the storyline threads are more diverse and drawing them together will take some time.  We knew it was still True Detective, though, when one key flashback was shown.

There’s a common, deeper theme between this year and last year, too:  the world is a sick, messed-up place.  This year we’ve got another weird killing to solve, when the bag man in a corrupt California town is found with his eyes missing and a visit to his home shows he was in the grip of multiple sexual fetishes.  The cast includes Vince Vaughn as Frank Semyon, the outwardly glad-handing but obviously ruthless boss of the town, a creepy Russian who Semyon hopes will help fund his latest scheme, and three police officers who will investigate the bag man’s murder.  All three have obvious problems:  Ray Velcoro, played by Colin Farrell, is a drunken, hyper-violent drug abuser who willingly participates in the town’s corruption and is glad to beat up either reporters trying to expose the town’s criminality or the father of a bullying kid who cut up his son’s expensive shoes; Ani Bezzerides, played by Rachel McAdams, whose Dad is a guru and whose sister performs live sex acts on porn website, has her own difficulties in establishing personal relationships; and Paul Woodrugh, played by Taylor Kitsch, is a suicidal veteran and California Highway Patrol officer who needs to take a blue pill to become intimate with his girlfriend.

It’s a rich stew of graft, violence, booze, and drugs, stirred by some very troubled people.  That’s apt, because True Detective traces its roots to the pulp  crime magazines of days gone by that thrilled barber shop patrons with their tales of murder and seduction.  This year’s version is off to a promising start in my book.

Vince Vaughn On True Detective?

HBO has confirmed two of the four leads for the next season of True Detective.  They are Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn.

Wait . . . Vince Vaughn?

Is this the same True Detective that featured tough, riveting, two-fisted portrayals of Louisiana cops by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson?  You know, the one that followed two radically different personalities over a number of years and believably depicted how they became close friends while they were trying to track down a terrible, twisted serial killer?

The same True Detective that Kish and I concluded was one of the very best TV shows we’d ever seen, period?

I thought Vince Vaughn only made stupid, cookie-cutter comedies with Owen Wilson that people stopped going to about five years ago.

HBO is pretty good at casting against type.  Maybe Vince Vaughn is tired of portraying an oily, bloated, fast-talker and wants to get into a serious role that allows him to show he can actually act.  I’m not sure it will work, but it’s certainly an intriguing casting choice.

As for Colin Farrell, if he shows the same acting ability he showed in In Bruges, I’ll buy it.

An Unabashed Rave About The True Detective Finale

The finale of HBO’s True Detective was as awesome as any fan of the show could have hoped. It was an acting, storytelling, and philosophical tour de force that left us wishing this show and cast would go on forever.

We found out who The Yellow King was, and he was every bit as creepy and appalling and deeply, fundamentally disturbed as we anticipated. As is true with everything about this fabulous series, the finale gave us only a glimpse as the life of this terrible serial killer of children and left so many questions about him unanswered that you could write whole books providing the explanation. I liked that they left things unanswered and tantalizing — it suggests the creators of the show respect their audience rather than patronizing them. Like the rest of season 1, the finale really made you think.

Spolier alert: I’m also thrilled that Hart and Cohle survived. I thought they would be killed off, and in some sense that would have taken the easy way out. When characters survive, you have to think about what they will become, which is harder.

In this case, I think we can conclude that — as terrible as their long experience was, and the many points of anguish they suffered, and inflicted on each other and Marty’s family — they ended up as better people. Marty obviously learned that his family is what is really important and that he has deep feelings for the iconoclastic Rustin Cohle. Cohle, on the other hand, reconnected with his daughter and his father, and now is allowing a dash of optimism to enter into his unique and bleak view of the world. Marty and Rust would make a formidable team going forward, but of course we don’t know whether that will happen, just as we don’t know whether there’s a glimmer of hope that Marty and Maggie get together again — which Kish is hoping for.

I thought it was great that Marty showed that, for all of Cohle’s dismissal of his skills when they ended their partnership in 2002, Marty prove to be a damn good investigator whose hard work and insight led the pair to the Yellow King. I liked that Cohle remained judgmental and inflexible about Marty’s self-destructive philandering. I especially appreciated that, at the moment of death, Cohle thought of and sensed his daughter, who had been an important start of the back story at the beginning of the series but hadn’t been mentioned recently. Reintroducing Cohle’s devastating loss of a child made the powerful closing scene even more powerful.

And what about that gripping, stunning closing scene, when both Cohle and Marty bared their souls? It showed what an epically well-acted series this was, because both Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson absolutely nailed it. McConaughey gave a titanic performance as Cohle shaken and struggling and uplifted by his visions at the moment of death, and Harrelson was brilliant as he showed the layers, and changes, in a character who went from a cheating good old boy to a good man over the 17-year arc of the story.

I’ve long been a Woody Harrelson fan, and McConaughey matches him talent for talent and nuance for nuance. I loved the camaraderie of their two characters, the humor they brought to the roles, and the absolute credibility of their artistic creations. Harrelson and McOnaughey are simply two of the best actors around.

And if this posting isn’t enough of a rave already, let me end with a plug for HBO. For years, Kish and I have been saying that HBO has the best original programming on TV. From The Sopranos to Deadwood to Game of Thrones — and a bunch of other great shows in between — HBO has produced a huge collection of incredible TV programming. If you don’t subscribe to a network that produces a show like True Detective, you’re just cheating yourself.

The Mystics Among Us

Kish and I really enjoyed watching True Detective on HBO — more on it later, I think — but one aspect of the show that I really enjoyed was Rustin Cohle. Matthews McConaughey was fabulous in depicting Cohle as one of the mystics among us.

My guess is that you’ve known some of these mystics, just as I have. They’re offbeat characters. What’s more, they know they’re offbeat, and they don’t care. They usually work at jobs that leave them plenty of time to explore the world and their varied interests. They’re freed from all standard societal constraints, and are open to just about anything. And yet, there lurks a certain skepticism beneath the oddball veneer, too. They’re willing to consider just about any religion or philosophical construct, but they’ll do so thoughtfully and after some very careful consideration.

The mystics think seriously, and at length, about things like the possibility of life after death and the concept of the soul. They might accept part of Buddhism, or animism, or Taoist beliefs, incorporate it into their worldview, and reject the rest. They usually read avidly, and their choices are wide-ranging. They’re not afraid to tackle some of the tough scientific or philosophical texts, and often they’ll want to talk to you about it.

Some people don’t like to hear their thoughts, as was the case, initially, with Woody Harrelson’s terrific Martin Hart on True Detective. The rush of ideas and the connections between them are just too jarring. But if you can get beyond the initial jangle, the conversations with these mystics can be fascinating. I remember being entertained for a beer-soaked evening, listening raptly to one of these modern-day mystics during the summer I worked in Lake George, New York. I don’t remember, now, exactly what we discussed, but I do remember coming away with the distinct understanding that there is more than one way to look at the world. It was an important and very useful realization.

True Detective

Thursday night Kish and I watched the first episode of True Detective, the new HBO series starring Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. It was a real powerhouse that left us eager for more.

The context and set-up of the show are intriguing. In the first episode we saw the two main characters at two times and from two perspectives — recorded interviews in 2012 about a bizarre killing and the actual investigation of the murder by the two detectives in 1995. The unifying point is a highly ritualized murder of a woman who is found kneeling and bound, carefully positioned with her hands together as if in prayer, wearing a crown of deer antlers, surrounded by stick creations that are believed to catch evil spirits. It’s a terrible crime that baffles and repels one character and seems to fascinate the other.

McConaughey plays Rust Cohle, a deep-thinking, introverted loner who is battling alcoholism, is still dealing with the tragic loss of his daughter for reasons we don’t yet understand, and seems to have an almost intuitive understanding of the murder. Cohle is called the Taxman because he carries a ledger in which he makes notes and carefully draws the positioning of the victim and the other items at the crime scene. Harrelson plays Martin Hart, a good old boy and self-professed family man who is disturbed by Cohle’s unconventional comments about religion, their town, and their world and seems to be dealing with problems of his own on the home front. Both were brilliant in the first episode, and the scenes in which they interact one-on-one crackle with energy, fine dialogue, and frequent humor.

As we move back and forth between 2012 and 1995, we realize that something significant has happened. Hart is still with the police force, a little older and balder, but Cohle is not. Cohle has changed from a clean-shaven man trying to be sober into a long-haired, mustachioed guy who apparently is reconciled to his alcoholism and insists on being brought a six-pack if the interview is to continue. We know that the two men worked together for seven years after the 1995 murder and apparently caught the killer, then broke up in 2002 and haven’t spoken since.

Oh . . . and we learn that there has been another killing that certainly looks like it was performed by the same murderer who killed the woman in 1995. What happened to Hart and Cohle? How did Cohle lose his daughter? How did they catch the wrong killer? Will they be brought together again to find the real murderer? We’ll find out.