True This: I Like Strong, Determined Women

I’ve never really qualified on even on the most liberal levels as macho or “bro”.  I’ve never had true athletic skills; I’ve never really enjoyed going to gyms and the one time in my life that I actually tried to build up my “six-pack”, which in my case has perpetually more resembled a single quarter-keg, I overdid it and wound up tearing several muscles in my back, requiring the most painful set of cortisone shots I had ever experienced just to be able to walk.

But I do admire people who do have the fortitude and ability to work out and be physically and mentally fit, women in particular.  Forget the obvious physical benefits–they tend to have a confidence and an assurance that just oozes appeal, a catnip-like quality that I immediately respond to, mentally especially.  And I particularly appreciate those who have such qualities that don’t feel that they have to throw it in your face.  I’m told the word for me “sapiosexual”, not that my track record is especially exemplary in such regard.

It’s qualities like that that are omnipresent in the lead characters in the latest installment of the HBO anthology series TRUE DETECTIVE, an arc subtitled NIGHT COUNTRY that reflects the first that wasn’t fully under the control of the series’ creator, Nic Pizzolato.  It’s actually been a decade since the first episode dropped in January, 2014, when the first installment teamed Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in a gripping story set in Louisiana as the two pursued a serial killer with occult ties over a 17-year period.  It was an immediate critical and audience hit; Pizzolato, who had honed his craft as a fiction writer, secured a two-season extension within days of its exceptionally well-received premiere.  But Season 2, which aired in the more vulnerable light of a summer arc the following year, paled in comparison in every sense of the word.  Playing the lead detectives this time around were Colin Ferrell and Vince Vaughn, who captured neither the intensity or the chemistry of their predecessors, and after early initial sampling amidst dismal reviews the audience waned.  HBO executives smelled a lemon, and waited until winter 2019 to air the second of those committed seasons, an even less broadly appealing iteration fronted by the far less familiar Mahersherala Ali.  It made up some of the lost critical ground, but lost roughly half the audience from the 2015 season.  At a time when HBO management was evolving and demanded more commercial hits, Pizzolato’s now more niche audience was seen as a detriment.

So with the support and the history of the franchise umbrella title still strong enough to make another go, reportedly with Pizzolato’s blessing, NIGHT COUNTRY effectively reinvents the franchise by taking on a female perspective, trading in the sweatiness of Louisiana with the cold, dark, perpetual night of wintry Ennis, Alaska.   As they did with Harrelson, who had eschewed TV for movies, the show was able to bring none other than Jodie Foster back to series television for the first time in decades.  And Foster is getting the most out of the vision and the lines crafted by Issa Lopez, another strong, smart female who is drawing rave reviews, such as the one offered by TV LINE’s Tyler Johnson:

When HBO announced that True Detective would be returning without any input from creator Nic Pizzolatto, there were concerns that this new iteration of the anthology cop drama would lack the dark eccentricity that initially set the series apart from the police procedural pack.

Possibly in response to those claims, new showrunner Issa Lopez is hinting at pulling off a feat that Pizzolatto never even attempted — creating a conclusive link between the current season and the one that made the show a sensation back in 2014.  Lopez…seems very interested in revisiting the gloomy terrain of Hart and Cohle’s (the characters McConaughey and Harrelson portrayed) investigation in terms of both tone and imagery. 

Episode 2, which dropped this past Sunday night, might have elicited gasps from viewers multiple times during its frigid cold open. Not only did the scene feature a clutch of frozen corpses sporting some bizarre injuries, but one of the stiffs was tattooed with the crooked spiral that became one of the iconic symbols of True Detective Season 1.

And THE NEW REPUBLIC’s Philip Maciak heartily agrees with the essence of Johnson’s opines:

Written, directed, and produced by acclaimed Mexican filmmaker Issa López, Night Country is the first of the four True Detective seasons made without Pizzolatto as showrunner, and the difference is striking. Rather than a sequel or a reboot or even a new installment, Night Country should be considered a revision, eager to preserve the anthology’s signature funk while feeling free to let go of Pizzolatto’s gallery of men in crisis. It’s also a response to the television landscape that the original True Detective helped shape, formally and thematically. As a result, it doubles as something like a referendum on 10 years of TV, 10 years of paranoid viewership, 10 years of the decline and dissolution of the prestige antihero. You can practically smell the psychosphere. 

Taking place almost entirely during the extended period of sunless days in the northern Alaskan winter, Night Country follows Elizabeth Danvers (Jodie Foster), the chief of police of the small town of Ennis, as she works with and against young trooper Evangeline Navarro (Kali Reis) to solve two seemingly disparate mysteries. The first is the inexplicable sudden death of the staff scientists at a remote Arctic research facility called Tsalal. Six men, in the nude, frozen together like a giant novelty ice cube for a Hieronymus Bosch–themed cocktail, faces arrested in various states of terror amid the frozen plain. The second mystery is the unsolved murder of an Indigenous activist named Annie K., which took place some years before the events of our show and was deemed at that time a simple act of violent retribution for her vocal opposition to the local mine. Both Danvers and Navarro remain unsatisfied by that explanation. The case haunts both women, who, you might imagine, are also haunted by other figures of their pasts—Danvers’s lost son, Navarro’s lost mother—figuratively and literally.

Critical acclaim and ratings are on the upswing as well–Sunday’s night episode improved +28% versus its premiere, according to VARIETY, and Rotten Tomatoes reviews are actually above (93%) the average from season 1 (91%), per Wikipedia.

So you’d think Pizzolato, who still maintains an executive producer credit, would be buoyed by this news?  Think again.  As FANSIDED’s Dan Selcke reports, that’s not quite the case:

Night Country has more ties to past seasons of True Detective — particularly season 1, aka the only season people universally agree is great — than any of Pizzolatto’s seasons had to each other. Apparently, that rubs Pizzolatto the wrong way, because he’s been making some snide comments about Night Country on his Instagram.

For instance, one commenter points out that the Tuttle family, a powerful Lourisiana family who factored into season 1, are apparently involved in season 4, where they may fund an arctic research facility in Alaska. “Haha. So stupid,” Pizzolatto offered. Another commenter hoped that Matthew McConaughey would have “enough respect” for season 1 not to reprise his role as Rustin Cohle in Night Country, which has hinted that Rust’s father is part of the cast. “I certainly did not have any input on this story or anything else. Can’t blame me,” Pizzolatto wrote. And in another comment: “Matthew doesn’t show up. Nor would he.”

Well, sorry, bro.  That kind of ‘tude is anything but alright, alright, alright.

This male actually tried and go back and watch the premieres of your two subsequent seasons once you took HBO’s money.  They were formulaic, contrived, the kind of B-movie executions I used to be offered as “world premiere movies’ when theatrical distributors refused to buy them.  Forget why I even thought, as I’ve always said, numbers don’t lie.

Selcke attempted to put Pizzolato’s seeming bitterness in some sort of context:

I sympathize with Pizzolatto maybe not enjoying seeing someone else handle — perhaps even mishandle —a show he built, but it does seem a touch tacky to bad mouth it in public. Pizzolatto has a bit of a reputation for being tricky to work with; Cary Fukunaga, the director of every episode in True Detective season 1 who went on to direct movies like the James Bond film No Time To Die, detailed some of the ways Pizzolatto could be a pain to The Hollywood Reporter.

The show was presented to me in the way we pitched it around town — as an independent film made into television. The writer and director are a team. Over the course of the project, Nic kept positioning himself as if he was my boss and I was like, ‘But you’re not my boss. We’re partners. We collaborate.’ By the time they got to postproduction, people like [former programming president] Michael Lombardo were giving Nic more power. It was disheartening because it didn’t feel like the partnership was fair.

After splitting with HBO, Pizzolatto signed a deal with FX, although he left it early.

I kinda wonder what my former colleagues would be saying about that, given how much I know they personally covet scooping up what they perceive to be competitors’ talents.

Or how much they may have wished that NIGHT COUNTRY had been a project independent of this umbrella, which it clearly could be save for the Easter eggs that have the show’s more objective fan base all atwitter (a-Threads?)

I do know I love what I’m seeing, and intend to follow this to the end, which, sadly, will be in just four weeks, as in this budget-conscious climate amidst the corporate tumult of a world run by Yosemite Zas NIGHT COUNTRY will run a mere six episodes.  But six episodes of “corpsicles”, eerie twists and turns and Foster, who uncannily pulls off both a flawless beauty and a weathered look that a bunch of Alaskan winters could easily do to someone like Liz Danvers, is more than most series with way more opportunties to hook someone like moi in have been able to pull off of late.

Strong, determined and yes, attractive women do that to me.  Happy birthday to one such representative of said species, BTW.  NIGHT COUNTRY is on my DVR list.  I hope it’s on yours as well.

Until next time…

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