HBO's 'True Detective,' Fox's 'Enlisted' premiere

Woody Harrelson, Matthew McConaughey in "True Detective."
Woody Harrelson, Matthew McConaughey in "True Detective."
Posted: January 10, 2014

* TRUE DETECTIVE. 9 p.m. Sunday, HBO.

* ENLISTED. 9:30 tonight, Fox 29.

IT'S NOT a bad thing that the whodunit sometimes takes a backseat to the who's-in-it in HBO's new drama "True Detective," which, as you might have heard, stars Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey.

Because, while the naked body of a woman has been left in a field, trussed and posed and crowned with some twigs and a pair of antlers, we've seen this kind of thing before. ("Hannibal," anyone?) And I can't imagine that these actors, each with a healthy film career, had been pining to add to the surplus of TV shows about serial killers with art-director aspirations.

Chances are they came instead for novelist Nic Pizzolatto's Chinese puzzle of a script, which takes place in three time periods - 1995, 2002 and 2012 - and invites us to search for clues about just what happened to, and between, Louisiana detectives Rust Cohle (McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Harrelson) in the 17 years between the time they first started working this murder and whatever's going on in 2012 that's resulted in them being pulled in for separate interviews by other detectives.

(It also invites us to wonder about the kind of cosmetic and cinematic magic that allows the actors to revisit their younger faces. Whatever it is, I'd like a couple of jars to go.)

McConaughey and Harrelson are terrific together and intriguing apart, and whatever went on or is going on between them, and in the sadly complicated community they serve, is more interesting than the murder mystery that's meant to drive the story. Or so it seemed to me, four episodes into the eight-episode season.

Still, there's that poor woman in the field who's not going to solve her own death, and two men who weren't sleeping well even before catching her case.

McConaughey has the showier part, especially in the 2012 pieces. Even early on, Cohle's stark worldview leaves his new partner more shaken than he wants to let on.

"Baby, trust me. You do not want to pick this man's brain," Marty tells his wife, Maggie (Michelle Monaghan), after she meets his partner for the first time.

Yet, it's Marty who ultimately seems the sadder of the two, if only because he honestly seems to believe his own excuses. Harrelson makes you believe in that, too.

The results are dark, yes, but also darkly funny: If the entire series had taken place in the car where the pair first start to get to know one another in Sunday's pilot, "True Detective" might have made a pretty good buddy comedy.

And that's not a bad thing, either.

Sign up for 'Enlisted'

I thought it might be hard to make a funny show about the military that's not about a war long past.

I was wrong.

A family/workplace comedy about three brothers (Geoff Stults, Chris Lowell and Parker Young) who work in a rear detachment unit, helping to care for the people left behind when soldiers deploy, "Enlisted," which premieres tonight on Fox, is both very funny and very sweet.

And its creator, Kevin Biegel, says it wasn't hard to find the laughter in military life at a time when so many soldiers are still very much in harm's way.

"I have a lot of friends who do this job," he told reporters last summer. "And one thing that always struck me when I thought about doing a show that was set in the military is, every time you see military in pop culture, it's one of two things. It's either the superhero, call-of-duty soldier who has no personality, or it's someone so wracked by [post-traumatic stress syndrome] that they can't even function. And those exist and that's a reality, but there's also a great swath of people in the middle [who] do this job and they do it nobly and they love it.

"We're talking about 25 million people who are either active service members or veterans. And to say that they all have to fit into these two camps just didn't seem right."


Phone: 215-854-5950

On Twitter: @elgray

Blog: ph.ly/EllenGray

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