Commentary

'True Detective' Is Truly Hard-Boiled In Third Season On HBO

One doesn't generally associate HBO with run-of-the-mill TV shows, but the new third installment of “True Detective” feels like it could have been produced for any number of TV networks -- both broadcast and basic cable.

Not that there is anything particularly wrong with that, since “True Detective” is a quality production in many ways.

It is atmospheric, taut and compelling -- all adjectives that TV and movie critics love to use in reviews such as this (although I think their use here represents a career “first” for the TV Blog).

It is also clichéd, similar to a hundred other crime dramas you've seen before and vaguely depressing, which is an all-too common trait of TV dramas today.

This installment of “True Detective” (premiering Sunday night) involves the disappearance of two preteen siblings -- a boy and a girl -- while they are out riding their bikes in a small Arkansas town in November 1980.

The Arkansas state police detectives who catch the case are played by Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff (seen right and left, respectively, in the photo above).

Of the two, the focus is squarely on the Ali character, Detective Wayne Hays -- who is also seen in 1990 and in 2015 in separate interviews about the case, which apparently became notorious in the years since it first came to light.

How it became infamous, and how it affected the life of Det. Hays, will likely be revealed using this flashback method in which the action jumps between 1980, 1990 and 2015 -- with Ali made up to look progressively older and, evidently, sadder too.

Not surprisingly, this story and the town it takes place in are grim indeed. The TV and movie industries seem often to take this point of view, that life in small-town America must be terrible.

In this “True Detective” series, this Arkansas town is so boring that the two detectives are seen spending most of their workshift killing time by drinking beer and shooting at rats in a garbage dump.

They do this in this show because, Hollywood seems to think, this is what people do for fun in small towns.

For some reason, this “True Detective” series has proven to be so alluring that A-list movie actors are apparently lining up to be in it.

Season One had Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, and Season Two had Colin Farrell and Vince Vaughn.

Here in Season Three, the featured attraction is Mahershala Ali, Oscar winner for “Moonlight” and currently starring in one of the best-reviewed movies now in theaters, “Green Book.”

His career seems red-hot at the moment, which bodes well for HBO's run of “True Detective,” Season Three.

For some of us, his talent is nothing new. He may have first come to prominence when he was the stand-out performer in the old USA Network sci-fi series “The 4400” way back in 2004.

Back then, Mahershala Ali went by the even longer name of Mahershalalhashbaz Ali, which was a challenge for me to spell whenever I wrote about him.

At the same time, I remember respecting him immensely for having the courage to resist trading in this name for a stage name that journalists could handle more easily.

He gives a great performance in “True Detective,” as does Dorff, Mamie Gummer and Scoot McNairy as the estranged parents of the missing children, and Jon Tenney as a county prosecutor.

Season Three of “True Detective” premieres Sunday night on HBO with two back-to-back episodes. The first one is titled “The Great War and Modern Memory,” in which the “war” in the title is the Vietnam War.

The second one is titled “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” a title borrowed from a hard-boiled novel of the 1940s by the great Horace McCoy that was made into a movie with Jimmy Cagney in 1950.

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