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Could True Detective Actually Be Good Again?

The first trailer for the third season of HBO’s unusual crime-solving series True Detective is here after a long delay, because the second season was what we like to call “a slow-burning trash fire.” But now we have Mahershala Ali on the scene, so everything could be fixed.

True Detective is currently in the history books as a show that thought it could make lightning strike twice, only where the second season is concerned, the lightning bolt hit the above-mentioned pile of trash and set it ablaze.

The first season was compelling and well-received by critics and audiences alike, anchored by knockout performances from Woody Harrelson (who deserved more acclaim) and Matthew McConaughey (who got it). It followed a pair of polar opposite investigators on an unnerving hunt for a murderer.

You came for the initial promise that the show would have multi-layered easter egg mysteries to unravel (it did not so much) and ended up staying for the messy codependent bond that developed between detectives Marty and Rust and the intriguing, what-is-real nature of the narrative. True Detective was nominated in 2014 for many awards and won several across directing, writing, cinematography, and acting.

So, it’s no surprise that the show was greenlit for a second season. Since it has an anthology format, the second season did not carry on with the same stories or characters. Like the first season, it did have big names like Rachel McAdams, Colin Farrell, and Vince Vaughn, and like the first season, it was a detective-driven murder mystery written by series creator Nick Pizzolotto.

The second season, however, was unfortunately not directed by the excellent Cary Fukunaga, who had directed the entirety of season one (and won an Emmy for his work), and it is a mess. It has a 63% on Rotten Tomatoes compared with the first season’s 86%, and reviews tend to call it muddled, too busy, unfocused, and basically too much.

I’m probably being too mean to season two of True Detective, because the first season was a hard act to follow, but it felt like it fell victim to the curse of the sequel, where everything that once worked is overblown and overdone, and too much money is thrown at a project without proper oversight. The second season’s tepid reception made HBO twiddle its thumbs on bringing back the show—it’s been three years—but the trailer for the new season, which debuts in 2019, leads me to hope something good could be cooking.

That’s because this season stars the great Mahershala Ali, who won best supporting actor for Moonlight in 2017. (While many people discovered Ali in MoonlightHouse of Cards, or Luke Cage, I’ve loved him since he played Richard Tyler on The 4400 back in 2004. If you have never watched The 4400, you’re in for a treat. Run, don’t walk.)

Ali is an incredible actor, which leads me to believe I can watch the upcoming installment happily, simply because he’s front and center in it as Detective Wayne Hays. (I was skeptical before his casting.) Also promising is that the trailer has some of the creepy, off-kilter, what-genre-is-this-even feel of the first season. Hopefully, HBO has taken a long hard look at what went off the rails and worked to correct it with a new, buzzworthy, much-acclaimed star front and center.

I’ll be showing up for Mahershala Ali—and hopefully staying put for an eerie new True Detective plot that sticks together, or at least creatively unravels.

(via The Verge, image: screengrab/HBO)

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Kaila is a lifelong New Yorker. She's written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.