How True Detective Season 2 Can Succeed Against All Odds

By Tony Leopold on Feb 27, 2014 to True Detective

True Detective Producer: Nick Pizzolatto

True Detective Producer: Nic Pizzolatto

Amongst film fans, it is a commonly held belief that if you want to get an indication of how good a not-yet-released film might be it is best to take note of the director. After all, the director is the one who has input on every aspect of a film. He or she has their hands on the script, the actors, the visuals, the pacing, the editing, and the sound design. 

In the world of television, it is only a little different. With television, the person who has the greatest impact on a show is the showrunner. The showrunner is responsible for overseeing the writing, producing, and the other elements that make up the day-to-day operations of the show. The director is just one person who might participate in one or two episodes in a ten to twenty-five episode season. Often, the directors are tasked by the showrunner to use an overall aesthetic that will fit in with the established look and feel of a show. This is how, despite there being five directors for the first season of Girls, which was only ten episodes long, all of the episodes have the same look and feel.

However, HBO shows are a little different. At HBO, often the showrunner is also the show’s creator, writer, producer etc. For example, David Chase was the showrunner or producer on The Sopranos and also the head writer and creator. David Milch was the showrunner for Deadwood and also the creator, head writer, and executive producer. David Benioff is the showrunner of Game of Thrones and also one of the writers and executive producers but not the director. 

Now imagine you have gone against the conventional wisdom and decided to employ the same director for an entire season of your show. You, as the showrunner, then hire two fantastic lead actors to star in your show. Now, imagine that your show is met with critical acclaim and that the network that airs your show is thrilled with your ratings.

Next, imagine that, for the second season of your show, the fantastic lead actors you hired for the first season depart. Also, the guy who directed all of your first season episodes quits too.  That is the reality that is now facing Nic Pizzolatto of HBO’s True Detective.

Never before has a showrunner on an HBO show had to deal with such a situation. Pizzolatto has to face the fact that Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson will not be returning for season two and that Cary Joji Fukunaga, the man who directed all eight episodes of the first season, will not be back to direct any episodes of season two (although he will be back as a producer). 

True Detective Season 1 Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga

True Detective Season 1 Director: Cary Joji Fukunaga

This is almost like David Chase losing James Gandolfini or Milch losing Ian Mcshane and Timothy Olyphant, plus not having the best (or any) of their directors return for a new season.  The odds stacked against season two of True Detective being as successful as season one are high. There, perhaps, has never been a hit show that faced such a challenging position. 

Adding to the challenge is the fact that Nic Pizzolatto does not have a long history of acting as a showrunner. As a matter of fact, this is the only show he has ever worked on as a showrunner.   Living up to the success of season one seems nearly impossible, the odds are stacked against it, but there are some things that could be done to help ensure success.

Firstly, Pizzolatto should take his time to write good scripts. While fans and HBO executives will be clamoring for season two to begin as soon as possible, Pizzolatto needs to make sure that his writing is solid and that the plot of season two is well thought out and compelling. Since the two main characters of season one will not be returning, Pizzolatto needs to make sure that his new lead characters are interesting and fully realized. Pizzolatto should take it slow and allow himself however long he needs to really hone the scripts, never mind how long it takes.

true-detective-who-goes-there

Secondly, Pizzolatto needs to get the casting right. I’m not saying that he needs to cast two more big-name actors, such as McConaughey and Harrelson but his lead characters need to be played by actors of a high caliber. This is mainly because Pizzolatto’s dialog is difficult. He writes more monologues and his turn-of-phrase is much different from your typical television writing. In the wrong hands, his dialog could come across as pretentious or too haughty. Casting high quality actors is something that HBO is typically good with, so Pizzolatto has an advantage there. 

Additionally, since Cary Joji Fukunaga is coming onboard as a producer Pizzolatto should lean on his directorial expertise and allow him to aid in choosing a director for season two. And I do think that season two, like season one, should only have one director. What has been amazing about season one is that the tone, look, and pacing has all felt perfectly right. It is almost like a film presented in eight parts. This is something best achieved by having one director, a visionary who can make sure his concept is brought to the screen in exactly the right way. I’m not saying it’s impossible with a group of directors (many television series have pulled it off including most HBO programs) but it is best done with one director in charge. Cary Joji Fukunaga has done such a fantastic job bringing Pizzolatto’s words to screen that it just makes sense that he should help in finding the next director to do the same.

Matthew-McConaughey-in-True-Detective-Wallpaper

Lastly, season two shouldn’t be more than eight episodes long. What many viewers like about True Detective is that, for a television series, it is a tightly told story with an end point firmly in sight. An eight episode limit would force Pizzolatto to keep the writing and pacing tight and economical, always leading the viewer toward something and not just spinning the wheels in order to pad things out.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves a bit.  Let’s see what Mr. Pizzolatto does with the script and casting on season two before we make too many judgement.  We have faith in you, Nic!  We’ll update as we have more information on True Detective Season 2 but one thing is for sure: HBO has the makings of a major hit series on its hands.  It will be tough to top this season but if anyone can do it it’s Pizzolatto and HBO.

Tony is a writer who likes television,  film, books, and dogs. He would love to appear on your podcast. Follow him on Twitter at TonyL.

  • Carl

    What a terrible article!

  • wsucram15

    This was a great show, some of the best writing and acting I have seen since Breaking Bad. I loved the pairing of Woody and Matthew, it was perfect. If you are going to do a show based in twisted sub plots and even
    attempt to beat Season 1, why wouldn’t you pair Morgan Freeman and
    Brad Pitt? Ive never met anyone who has not seen and admired Se7en.
    Topping that however,would be the problem.

  • Sam

    I knew if there would be a S2 that Woody and Matt wouldn’t or couldn’t be in it because they are too big… just think of how much HBO paid them to do S1? I am pretty sure they can make more in movies plus the schedule of doing a whole season would prevent any other projects they may want to be in.

  • loco73

    This is out of Pizzolatto’s interview with entertainment weekly and what he said about Season 2 of “True Detective”:

    “”What’s the update on season two?

    I am still fleshing it out. The basic idea: Hard women, bad men, and the secret occult history of the U.S. transportation system. I was well on my way in the writing but there’s been a lot noise and work around the end of the first season that got in the way.”

    Below is the link to his in-dept interview and post-mortem of the show:

    http://popwatch.ew.com/2014/03/10/true-detective-post-mortem-creator-nic-pizzoletto-on-happy-endings-season-2-and-the-future-of-cohle-and-hart/

  • reeblite

    casting was key. i wouldn’t have bothered watching if it had not been for these two actors. the writing is character based and reminded me of redford’s woodward and bernstein, displays opposite character traits and thinking make them a team that could not have achieved success on their own. love how writer unfolds story leaving you guessing, it’s cerebral and the sets were spectacular in capturing attention. agree with loco73, hypnotic and dreamlike with it’s surreal environment. season two needs to be opposite, hard and real, but hypnotic.

  • loco73

    I don’t understand why people are soo surprised that Cary Joji Fukunaga, McConaughey and Harrelson won’t be back for the second season? “True Detective” was anounced as an antology series. It will follow the format of “American Horror Story” where there is a different cast, a different story and setting each season.
    If Pizzolatto takes his time with the script, if they stick with the 8 episode format and one director per season, the second season should work. There are plenty of stories to be told, in different perspectives, tones, ideas and concepts. While this first season had an almos hypnotic and dream-like quality about it, surrounded by an almost surreal environment, the second season could work by producing a script that is completely different in all those aspects from the first one.
    Casting will be crucial. While McConaughey and Harrelson were a stroke of genius casting, necessarily trying to get big name actors just for the sake of it is not advisable. Although getting to work on an HBO project is unlike pretty much every other job most actors get, just casting movie actors, who are now “discovering” television because they cannot get any good roles in mainstream movies and are desperately migrating to networks like HBO, Showtime, AMC, FX and Starz, should not eliminate the great pool of talented TV actors we’ve come to know and love.
    The same will be true for directing. There I won’t even attempt to take a guess…or suggestion!
    As for possile actors I’d like to see get a shot at this, since we are talking about casting, I’dl like to see Oscar Isaac maybe paired with Al Pacino (who has already donw wonderful work with HBO). Or as some have already mentioned Benicio Del Toro paired with Gael Garcia Bernal or Diego Luna. How about Forrest Whitaker (who proved himself on “The Shield) and Chiwetel Ejiofor…

  • Josh

    For a series that started slow the final half of the season was some of the most entertaining “television” I have seen in months. The performances were amazing and every minute of the show just added to the suspense. It is hard to picture this series without matt or woody but I hope for the viewers sake that season 2 works, because this was really awesome stuff.

  • bignicky45

    Damn. Matt and woody are too good I dont want to see them leave the series. Great first season!

  • Sofie Tonoyan

    Amazing, riveting & well written script. Always on the edge of my seat. I’ve never been too fond of Woody being in lame movies but seeing his role here, makes me see a different actor now, one who’s worth watching. As far as Matthew, this guy’s face was in all girly movies and I seriously didn’t think he’d be able to pull something like this off. Bravo gentlemen. BRAVO and hat’s off to you all. PLEASE MAKE SURE SEASON 2 COMES BACK. PLEASE!!

  • Great article, Tony. It does suck that Fukunaga isn’t returning to direct, given some of his inspired decisions this season, but the fact that he’s still involved bodes well. Regardless of where season 2 goes or who’s involved, season 1 is now cemented as one of my favorite seasons of anything of seen. It’s just such a well told, self-contained story. Kudos to Pizzolatto and Fukunaga for creating an instant HBO classic.

  • Ryo Shenmue

    The writing of Pizzolatto couldn’t be more common actually, there’s nothing complex about it, he’s not David Simon nor Chris Carter…he’s not even David Milch. Also, it doesn’t really matter who the actors are going to be(on twitter Pizzolatto suggested that one of the new characters could be a woman) because it is much more important to have great characters rather than big actors…Rust and Marty are average characters played by “big names”, which is the same approach HBO has been using since 2008/2009. Steve Buscemi plays a mediocre character on Boardwalk Empire and he’s been playing it with a repetitive performance that is exactly the same performance he has offered in the last 15 years. On The Wire even the most unknown of the actors pulled off a memorable performance, on Deadwood Ian McShane was a nobody and created one of the 15 best characters in TV history.
    Speaking of Fukunaga his return is anything but essential considering that HBO always had much better TV directors(they should just assign the direction of every episode to Dan Attias, Joe Chappelle or Ed Bianchi).

  • KJ

    HBO needs to make Cary Joji Fukunaga an offer he cant refuse to come back to direct season 2. What he contributes to True Detective is just as integral to the overall fabric of the show as Nic Pizzolatto’s writing and the work done by the incredible actors. One of the greatest aspects of this show is its consistency in style and quality and with the overhaul of the cast for the next season that consistency is going to be more important that ever.. Nic Pizzolatto + Cary Joji Fukunaga = Lighting in a bottle!

    • I agree that Fukunaga has been fantastic, but I believe there are other directors out there than could be equally successful. Prior to TD, Fukunaga wasn’t exactly an in-demand director. Sure, he’s had some success, but he’s never before gotten the kind of attention that his work of TD has brought. The main thing is that HBO needs to get someone who is right for the job and give them a chance a realize their vision.

  • Nahojism

    I love this show. The pacing is made for afterthought. It’s not a straight up black and white story, you can go and watch something more simple if you don’t like it. I hope they take their time making season two, if it’s going to happen. No need to rush it. As for the F word. I think most shows would benefit from toning it down a few notches. It’s not edgy to use it in TV any longer. Instead, over use of it can make the dialogue borderline silly.

  • James

    I don’t like True Detective. I have tried to watch it a few times, but it’s just too slow for me.

  • Pollypontifing

    Well, you lost me finally when tv’s most graphic sex allowable was thrown in last week for no other reason than to titillate and draw in any prurient types not already watching. It has always been obvious the script could be shortened by a quarter if the “F” word in all its combinations was ommitted – I’ve noticed HBO endorses its use wherever- and I miss some of the dialect and low conversations. But I continued to be caught up in a dark edgy drama. Now it’s plain that higher ratings are the real ploy; you grabbed for the few viewers left who were not watching Downton Abbey, and stepped over the line. I was eager to see this slow story-line unfold but your sordid bid for more viewers insulted any cerebral reason I can muster to continue..Since every episode leaves me feeling down and depressed, I’ve called it quits.

    • Jojocotto

      Welcome to HB Fucking O. Is this your first time watching it?

      • Pollypontifing

        I missed one episode – caught up . Have tried to develop myself into a reasonable “truedetective”, but I demand a certain honesty and respect from Mr. Pizzolatto in return for my willingness to give his story a perspicacious viewing. I did not receive it.

    • reeblite

      they’re keeping it real. swearing suits stressful situations,.

      • Pollypontifing

        My thought has been that Mr Pizzolatto sounds like a teenager brandishing all his newly acquired adult permissions – we can see he’s delved into the carnal, now he needs to learn to share with craft and discretion. You are right – the development of the two characters was superb – I did come back to watch the show afterall. (I’m not sure that says much for me). The vagueness and lack of resolution of the story plot itself are disappointing; tho the final episode answered that the author was only concerned about his Two Detectives all along. – why not name it that.

  • Jef Dinsmore

    I certainly did appreciate Mr. Fukunaga’s contribution to this series and the continuity it upheld. I also believe, for that reason, that one director per season would be a great asset. But, I am going to be bold in saying that I don’t know if I would want Mr. F. to direct Season two anyway.

    The cohesive factor here is Nic Pizzolatto; as long as he was the writer/producer behind each and every season than the director can change for me. Mr. F’s style and approach fit for the dark Louisiana setting. But, as we get new settings, locales and characters for Season Two then a different director’s approach is all right as well.

    As I stated elsewhere – The new locale will offer a whole different atmosphere and flavor to each season and the cases do not have to be murder cases by any means. They could be a drug bust, fraud, smuggling, who knows. A fresh new season can have a fresh new director. But, the show cannot survive without Nic Pizzolatto.

    • I think you have a point about moving on from Fukunaga. I really think the between TD and The Knick networks are going to be amenable to having a single directer for a whole season of episodes. I think it’s exciting…

    • Eleonora Iafano

      I have thoroughly enjoyed the show and have gotten several friends and family members tuned into it. It’s gritty and raw; it plays with your emotions and just when you think you have a clue or a possible theory figured out, BAM! You’re back to square one. I really hope that Nic P can deliver another high quality second season, complete with two lead actors who can nail down detective roles with mystery, emotion and tension.

  • I think the show is decent, but I’d like to see a bit of a faster pace for season two. I think from the previews I was expecting it to be much creepier and more terrifying, so I can’t help feeling a little bit disappointed. I have enjoyed the second half of the season more than the first few episodes, though. Looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

    • I would compare True Detective to a show like The Killing. With both shows, the pace is very slow and deliberate, but not boring. I felt as though seasons 2 and 3 of The Killing really ended well and really had a lot of momentum toward the end. i’m hoping TD will do the same.

      • KJ

        Nic Pizzolatto wrote a few episodes of The Killing ;)

        • Yep…I hope he writes a few for the next season of The Killing, which is coming to Netflix at some point…










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