Mahershala Ali is the only one who can get people to watch “True Detective”

“I want to know the whole story.”
“I want to know the whole story.”
Image: HBO
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Much of the TV-watching world swore off HBO’s True Detective forever after the crime show’s widely disdained second season. Now one actor is bringing those lapsed fans back. Begrudgingly, nervously—but back, all the same.

HBO announced last year that Mahershala Ali, then fresh off his Oscar win for his role in Moonlight, would star in the third season of True Detective. While its 2014 debut season, which starred Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as cops investigating a serial killer, was critically acclaimed, its second season the following year was so universally panned that even HBO essentially admitted it was a dud, and the network seemed hesitant about bringing the anthology series back for a third attempt.

Ali’s casting represented something of a goodwill gesture. HBO was in a tough position to justify more episodes of the show, given its failed second season, but Ali—even more broadly loved than True Detective was hated—was enough to quell any uproar.

And then HBO released the first trailer for season three of True Detective:

The immediate reaction on Twitter and Reddit proved that the Mahershala Ali effect is very real and very strong:

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Ali has single-handedly brought True Detective back from the dead. There are few, if any, other actors who wield such enormous power to overcome what had become an internet joke.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the new season will necessarily be good—it just means that people will watch it, and HBO made a smart decision by centering the show’s revival around as uncontroversial a talent as possible.

And indeed, a closer look reveals that this new season contains certain elements that plagued the prior season: Writer-creator Nic Pizzolatto will again write every episode himself (except for one in which he shares credit with NYPD Blue creator David Milch). The director of the series, Jeremy Saulnier, exited after just two episodes amid rumors of clashes with Pizzolatto. Saulnier was replaced by Daniel Sackheim, an HBO veteran and savvy TV director who counts installments of Game of ThronesThe Leftovers, and The Americans to his name—but behind-the-scenes drama and director turnover rarely turns out well.

Perhaps it won’t matter. Perhaps Ali really can redeem the show himself. We won’t know until January 2019, when the new season debuts, but HBO has be thrilled that fans are at least willing to give it another chance.