True Detective: Only Time Will Tell If We Stand the Test of Time

It’s 2015 and I’m watching True Detective for the first time but (fittingly enough, I know) it feels like it already happened. It’s like I’m just getting around to a DVR’d Super Bowl in March, or I’m Chief Justice Bart Simpson finally watching The Itchy & Scratchy Movie. Any spoilers that wouldn’t have made sense to me beforehand — something-something-Yellow-King, “time is a flat circle” of course — have been washed away by the flood of “True Detective Season 2” tweets. There’s a lot that irritates me about the online ritual of week-to-week TV dissection. But taking in a past-due subcultural moment, alone, in the course of a single week, outside of the sustaining atmosphere of hype … well, it’s lonely.

Funny thing about the Test of Time is that the sort of serious-minded bores who invoke that flawed standard are prone to bet on losing horses. Time has told that most pop ages better than most “art” does. Pop sponges up personal and social and cultural meanings, while the faddish whims of critical esteem date amusingly. Sometimes I wonder what artistic medium suffers most from this phenomenon. Novels are a likely candidate — not many readers getting around to Freedom or Netherland in 2015. (Which, I know, they’re fine.) But I suspect Quality Television will soon be even more affected. The Sopranos or The Wire we may always have with us, but what will today’s eight-year-olds make of Mad Men in 2025?

And what do I make of True Detective in 2015? Flash and craft yearning for unearned pathos.There are worse ways to start a story than “We found a dead nude woman.” But there are also other ways to start a story. It’s fun to watch McConaughey, sure, in the same way it’s fun to watch a BMX competition or a really good juggler. His aged Cohle has dead eyes deserving of a Robert Shaw monologue; his younger self revels in high school philosophication with the smugness of the smartest guy in a exceptionally dumb room. Woody Harrelson yet again proves himself one of our most adequate actors as he fucks several attractive women, only one of whom is his wife, and then has feelings. And of course this show’s most celebrated moment is an extended tracking shot — the visual equivalent of a guitar solo, if not a drum solo, for quantity fans.

But the worst part about writing about True Detective in 2015? I just knew someone had used “time is a flat circlejerk” before I even Googled.

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