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HBO’s ‘True Detective’ dresses up a familiar format

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Buddy cops: McConaughey and Harrelson consult the evidence in True Detective.

Two and a half stars

True Detective Sundays, 9 p.m., HBO.

Oh look, it’s another TV drama following a single criminal investigation over the course of a season. True Detective is on HBO, so it features more explicit language, sex and violence, and it also has two genuine movie stars (Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson) in its lead roles. (If it’s picked up for a second season, True Detective is planned as an anthology with a new story and cast each year.) Despite those advantages, True Detective is still a dressed-up version of a now-familiar format, following a gruesome, ritualistic murder that could have come from any number of Hollywood thrillers.

Novelist Nic Pizzolatto wrote and filmmaker Cary Joji Fukunaga (Jane Eyre) directed all eight episodes, giving them a nice unified style, and Pizzolatto and Fukunaga successfully build an atmosphere of unease in the show’s backwoods Louisiana setting. McConaughey and Harrelson are strong performers, although McConaughey is saddled with a character who speaks almost exclusively in enigmatic proverbs. As the case unfolds, the atmosphere and the acting aren’t enough to prop up the repetitive, meandering plot, and the tone often slips from heady to pretentious. True Detective looks impressive at first, but it ends up as only a slight variation on an already tired storytelling approach.

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