Can Mahershala Ali redeem HBO’s “True Detective”?

Will he be the truest detective of them all?
Will he be the truest detective of them all?
Image: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
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The third season of anthology series True Detective is a go, HBO announced yesterday, and Oscar-winning actor Mahershala Ali will star as the show’s crime solver. Hiring Ali is a good start to redeeming the once-acclaimed franchise.

HBO programming head Casey Bloys confirmed the news at the network’s summer Television Critics Association panel. He said he’s already read five scripts, which he called “terrific.” True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto, who has written every episode of the series, is working with prolific showrunner David Milch (DeadwoodNYPD Blue) on crafting the new season’s narrative—a move many cheered after the show’s second season succumbed to the pitfalls of auteur television.

After a thrilling and visually stunning 2014 debut season, which starred Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as detectives tracking a serial killer through the Louisiana bayous, the series took a mighty step backward in its second year. The story moved to Los Angeles, where Vince Vaughn played a corrupt entrepreneur. Rachel McAdams, Colin Farrell, and Taylor Kitsch did their best as the cops investigating the death of Vaughn’s business partner, but it failed to rekindle the magic of its first season.

Critics derided the ridiculous dialogue (“Never do anything out of hunger—not even eating”) and argued the plot was severely overwrought. In some cases, TV shows fall victim to “too many cooks” in the writers’ room, but with True Detective, it became clear that there weren’t enough. (Also, director Cary Fukunaga, who gave the first season its distinct visual flair, was not involved in the season season.)

Michael Lombardo, HBO’s president of programming at the time (Bloys took over the role last year), admitted that season two was weaker than the first, blaming himself for rushing Pizzolatto into production. “I set him up. To deliver, in a very short time frame, something that became very challenging to deliver,” he said. “That’s not what that show is.”

It appears the network has learned its lesson. Now two years since the show’s second season aired, its third season likely won’t air until 2019 at the earliest. And while he probably won’t fix the writing, Mahershala Ali is a tremendous hire as HBO hopes to right the True Detective ship.

A little known actor for most of the 2000s, Ali came to prominence in 2013 for playing Remy Danton, a lobbyist in Netflix’s House of Cards. Since then, he’s been thrust into the Hollywood A-list, winning the Academy Award for best supporting actor for his role in Moonlight, which itself won the Oscar for best picture.

Ali will be the first non-white lead actor in True Detective. There’s no word on if he will be given a partner (or two), but Twitter already has plenty of suggestions: