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Instant TV Show Rehab: Mahershala Ali

A third season of HBO’s ‘True Detective’ felt like more of a threat than something anyone was eagerly anticipating, but by casting Hollywood’s hottest actor, the show has turned the tables

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

After a second season of True Detective full of Taylor Kitsch’s tears, e-cigarette slander, Vince Vaughn committing way too hard to lines like "Never do anything out of hunger. Not even eating," and a Chinatown-derivative plot that never reached the suspense or profundity of the first season, hardly anyone was asking creator-writer Nic Pizzolatto for a third installment. The goodwill the show had earned with its first, Matthew McConaughey–led season had disappeared. The people had turned. And the hashtag-fantasy casting that dominated Twitter after the first season morphed from somewhat serious to downright dystopian:

Even after HBO confirmed the show would return and signed on David Milch, the ace writer behind NYPD Blue and Deadwood, buzz on a third season was negligible. After Season 2 so spectacularly failed to meet expectations, no one wanted to be burned again — even if a TV vet was hopping on board to help Pizzolatto curb his instinct to write scenes in which his main character threatens a 12-year-old with corpse sodomy. It seemed that nothing could be done to get people back on the True Detective bandwagon. Until Wednesday.

WELL THEN. This changes everything. It’s like they say: Casting the coolest, hottest actor in Hollywood who also happens to be the defending Best Supporting Actor is never not a good decision. OK, no one says that, but they should! Tapping Mahershala Ali to star in the third season of True Detective brings some much-needed life to the show. He’s a versatile actor with an endless supply of charisma and a quiet confidence, the sort of guy who can express so much without even opening his mouth — a skill set that makes for a very intriguing match with True Detective’s philosophically overwrought, modern noir stylings. Plus, I know for a fact that no one looks better smoking a cigarette than Mahershala Ali, and there will no doubt be plenty of that (real cigarette-smoking — not that "robot dick" stuff) in Season 3 of True Detective.

There’s Scene 1, Episode 1 of True Detective Season 3.

Ali’s casting is a boost not only in practicality, but also in perception. HBO made the right choice here (and maybe only here), as it did by bringing on Milch, which suggests that it’s got a hold on this show — that the network understands what made Season 1 worthwhile, and what made Season 2 such a nightmare. Sometimes your worst self is your best self, but more often your best self is your best self, and currently HBO is doing everything in its power to make sure it gets the most out of True Detective. Now the show just needs a director.