"True Detective," Season Two, arriving June 21 on HBO, stars Colin Farrell as Det. Ray Velcoro -- a divorced father who's got father/son issues and a lot of other issues too, including old ties to one Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn), a one-time hustler now on the verge of his biggest score yet. Semyon is married to Jordan (Kelly Reilly), a former D-list actress who's found her soulmate in the guy. And then, one fine and sunny L.A. day, Semyon's business partner goes missing. This mystery will drag Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams), a sheriff's detective, Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch), a motorcycle cop and war vet, and Velcoro together on a lonely stretch of highway at the end of this fine sunny day. ... These three strangers share one other thing in common: Troubled personal lives. "True Detective 2" is their story.
And this, dear reader, is my first impression: My caveat: I reserve the right to change my mind after I see a few more episodes. This is based on the premiere only:
... Troubled cop with back story and skeletons and maybe a flask of bourbon in the hip pocket...
... L.A. industrial titans with deep secrets and deeper pockets accessorized with sultry consorts and Russian mobsters with thick necks and thicker accents ...
... That big bad city -- an octopus tangle of freeways and long lines of exotic palm trees reaching up, up, up to the pitiless sun ...
How the heck does any poor mystery writer hoping to grapple with the most overexposed city on the planet escape awful cliches like this? Blame Raymond Chandler, I suppose: Grab that bottle of bourbon and pour it on a copy of "The Big Sleep," then light it, in a ceremonial propitiation/emancipation. ... (No, don't do that -- great book. Read it instead.)
Or maybe just swear silently to yourself that you'll never watch "Chinatown" again.
This towering challenge before any mystery writer -- either mediocre or brilliant -- turns out to be the towering challenge faced by Nic Pizzolatto, who wrote the first "TD" and returns for this eight-chapter version. It could also turn out to be the chief impediment standing between you -- the eager, hopeful viewer -- and the most anticipated new series of the summer, quite possibly the entire year.
"TD 2" arrives June 21, and with HBO's embargo now lifted, you will start to see the occasional review -- make that a crush of 'em -- start to arrive. Pizzolatto -- a TV newcomer who quite simply had one of the great coming-out parties in the modern history of the medium with "True Detective" -- must now suffer the slings of that rough Hollywood truism: Second acts are the hardest acts of them all. And sequels are murder.
There's plenty of good with "True Detective 2," and that's worth getting to immediately, notably nicely clipped elliptical dialogue that drops you into the middle of something -- and you're not quite sure what that something is. There are references to many things, and people -- and no elaboration given. That's good because it is how people talk after all, and that is how a mystery is built. (And occasionally frustrating too, because ellipses obviously don't offer much in terms of information.)
What's also good is the way the core mystery is threaded through the opening episode: That missing business partner, seated in the back seat of some town car making its way through the streets of Los Angeles, then the back hills, going somewhere, and then finally arriving. ...You suspect he's not in good shape. You then know he's not in good shape when he slumps, lifeless, against the car window. There's even -- seriously -- what looks to be the Maltese Falcon in the front seat.
But the not-so-good -- again, just first impressions, friends -- is ominous: Vince Vaughn, notably, as the mobster in bespoke suits with that aforementioned sultry consort who occasionally purrs cryptically alluring and totally nonsensical asides to him. They're a pair of noir banalities who wandered off the set of "Kiss Me Deadly" straight into the 21st century.
And which Colin Farrell turns up here? The one from "In Bruges" or the one from "Miami Vice"? The gifted intelligent actor everyone knows or wants him to be? Or the undisciplined over-actor he sometimes can be?
First-impression answer: The latter.
His Velcoro is supposed to be reckless and troubled and desperate and pugnacious and intemperate and bibulous ... and ... You'll note that doesn't leave much room for anything else. The first casualty here appears to be subtlety. .
There was so much that made "True Detective," the first one, work so well and which is simply not in "TD 2" -- most notably, that mysterious back story between Rust Cohle and Marty Hart, and the long silent drives through bayou country punctuated by Rust's long, discursive, Lovecraftian ruminations on Nietzsche and nihilism which forced millions of us to Google "Lovecraftian," "Nietzsche" and "nihilism."
Who cared about the murder mystery?! Rust was mystery enough.
Meanwhile, by relocating this chapter of the anthology to L.A., Pizzolatto and his director Justin Lin (here for the first couple of episodes) also have to navigate a century's worth of L.A. cultural immersion, beginning with noir, and much later "Chinatown" and "L.A. Confidential." We've seen it all -- we really have -- and suspect there probably isn't all that much new under that brutal pitiless cliche of a Southern California sun.
So much for first impressions. Make your own -- this arrives as mentioned on the 21st -- and there will be eight episodes to formulate them.
Lin's direction certainly makes this newcomer look good; we will all soon enough see whether "True Detective 2" actually is.