A year ago, anticipation was high for season 2 of Nic Pizzolatto’s True Detective. The first installment was a well-received smash, and the cast of Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Vince Vaughn and Taylor Kitsch had us expecting more of the same. Then the HBO drama’s new season premiered this summer, and the reception was rather divisive. Some praised the acting and the visuals, while others decried the shoddy storytelling and overwrought dialogue. What most fans and critics seemed to agree upon was that this new season represented a step down from the McConaughey/Harrelson glory days.
But now, that’s ancient history.
Creator and writer Pizzolatto recently inked an overall deal with HBO that keeps the auteur with the company through 2018. That being said, a third season of the dark detective series is not guaranteed. Should Mr. “Pizzo” decide to craft a Part III, it appears that HBO prefers to mix things up this time around. Luckily, the TD team can turn the channel to FX every Monday night to see a crime anthology doing pretty much everything right.
Fargo, while not perfect, can teach True Detective a few things.
1. Have a Sense of Humor
Even during its acclaimed first season, True Detective was often ridiculed for its pervasive dread and melodramatic musings on the meaning of life. This only escalated in the second season, where comic relief was about as common as a smile from…well, any of the characters.
The subject matter in Fargo is just as serious as that of True Detective, given that both series involve murder and the battle between good and evil. Nevertheless, wisecracks and jokes fill every episode, as both good and bad guys dole out insults and asides at every possible opportunity. Much of the humor consists of regional riffs on Midwestern accents and stereotypes. Nevertheless, Fargo has a good time even as it tells a brooding “true” crime story. Plus, having Ron Swanson in the cast always helps.
I am not advocating for a comedic version of True Detective, because a) that’s just not the series we love and b) Fargo, while often funny, is far from a comedy. But a sense of humor is essential to avoiding the self-serious pitfalls that can cripple an entire season (see: True Detective, Season Two).
2. Spread the Love in the Writer’s Room
Nic Pizzolatto writes every single episode of True Detective. This is highly unusual for television, and some believe that this production style doomed the second season. The more likely reason for the dip in quality is the time crunch: whereas the plot for the first season was written, rewritten and fleshed out over the course of four years, the second season was written and cast in less than one year. But the fast-paced TV world is even more reason to bring some new talent on board. While Mr. Pizzolatto is a tremendous writer, more cooks in the kitchen could strengthen a potential third season. Take Fargo, Season Two, for example.
While Noah Hawley wrote every episode of the first season, writers like Bob DeLaurentis, Steve Blackman, Matt Wolpert and others have helped craft some incredible episodes in this ongoing second season. I believe that their contributions have made the new season even better than the last, mostly because these writers are TV vets.
Nic did reach out to novelist Scott Lasser for help with Season Two’s plot, but having some veteran TV writers join his team could bring some new and interesting perspectives to a show that, judging by this past season, needed some level of creative shakeup.
3. Embrace a Different Time Period
Every season of Fargo will be set in Fargo, North Dakota and the surrounding areas, while True Detective has a little more mobility. The series moved from a Southern Gothic tale in Season One’s Louisiana to a more film noir style in Season Two’s Los Angeles. Yet Fargo manages to feel fresher and different in its second installment, even as some of the locations carry over from the first season.
Part of this is writing, as True Detective‘s character archetypes remained largely similar in its second effort (see the lesson above), but Fargo‘s late 1970s setting has opened up new doors for themes, jokes and character tropes.
Should True Detective follow suit and follow back in time? Absolutely. It would be interesting to see Nic Pizzolatto’s take on 1980s New York City, or 1970s Boston, or any of the Southern states during the 1960s. Fargo‘s new season is proof that a time warp can open up all kinds of interesting possibilities for your story.
Both shows are part of the “prestige anthology” wave that has risen to prominence in the new Golden Age of TV. Furthermore, I believe that Fargo and True Detective stand head and shoulders above the American Crimes and American Horror Storys of the world. However, there’s always room for improvement. If True Detective does get a third season order, it need not look far for tips on how to tell more engrossing and captivating stories.
Or, just cast Nick Offerman as one of the detectives. Problem(s) solved!