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Friday 24 May 2019

True Detective critics have not got a clue

FINALE: Matthew McConaughey as Rust Cohle in True Detective
FINALE: Matthew McConaughey as Rust Cohle in True Detective

'ONCE there was only dark. If you ask me, the light's winning," said Matthew McConaughey's Rust Cohle in the very last line of Saturday's True Detective finale on Sky Atlantic.

Whether the light is winning out over the dark, in terms of America's reaction to the end of True Detective's first season, is another matter. When the finale went out over there a couple of weeks ago, opinion was split down the middle between those who thought it was brilliant and those who considered it a letdown.

For what it's worth, I'm with the "brilliant" camp – although I'm not going to go into the details of why, in case you haven't yet watched the episode. True Detective demonstrated that the hardest thing to master in television drama is the art of the finale.

There's a reason it's hard: the perfect finale is the Holy Grail of TV drama and will forever remain elusive, because it doesn't actually exist. You might be able please some of the people or most of the people, but you'll never please all of the people.

ENRAGED

One of the most famous (or infamous, depending on your view) finales in TV history, the sudden fade-to-black at the end of The Sopranos, enraged that part of the audience that wanted to know, beyond all doubt, whether Tony lived or died.

The Sopranos' creator David Chase insisted the answer was obvious. For some viewers, though, probably nothing short of a signed personal letter from Chase detailing what happened after the lights went out would have sufficed.

I imagine the feeble "they were dead all along" finale of Lost enraged most people – or at least most of those that bothered sticking with six seasons of increasingly bloated, up-its-own-bottom nonsense right to the bitter end.

Even the final episode of Breaking Bad, an hour of television so electrifyingly great it's impossible to see how it could have been improved, had its share of detractors. But the critical reaction to True Detective in the US has been something else again.

There were plenty of positive reviews and plenty of negative reviews, but the one that stands out from the pack is the utterly preposterous write-up from Emily Nussbaum, TV critic with The New Yorker magazine.

Nussbaum was actively angered by it. She seemed to take it as a personal affront that creator/writer Nic Pizzolatto didn't tie things up just the way she thought things should be tied up.

Nussbaum's review is a textbook example of the kind of journalistic narcissism and self-importance peculiar to a lot of big-city newspapers and magazines in America. Even more ridiculous was the reaction to the last ever episode of unfathomably popular comedy How I Met Your Mother, the final series of which has just begun on E4.

"Betrayal!" screamed American critics who really should know better. Meanwhile, fans of the series were so incensed by the way the writers wrapped it up that thousands of them took to change.org – a platform that used to be used for rather more important things than griping about TV shows – to demand CBS shoot a new ending. CBS politely told them to bog off, and rightly so.

The reason television is so much better than the movies right now is because not everything is screened in advance to a test audience, who then get to influence the shape of the finished product. The moment television starts letting that happen is the moment to switch off.

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