'True Detective' back with new cast, same darkness

WASHINGTON - Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are gone from "True Detective," but HBO's Emmy-winning cop anthology series is back Sunday for a second season with the same dark, moody atmosphere.

The question is: can a new cast of famous faces and a shift in location - from the swamps of Louisiana to the gritty streets of southern California - draw the same cult following?

Series writer-creator Nic Pizzolatto says his team was keen on "fully committing to something new." "We were conscious of not wanting to repeat ourselves or remake the same album in a different setting," Pizzolatto says in the premium cable network's promos for season two.

"I do think that the seasons have a deep, close bond in sensibility and vision, a similar soul, though this is a more complex world and field of characters." This time around, Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams and Taylor Kitsch play cops who end up on a collision course with career criminal Frank Semyon (played by Vince Vaughn of "Swingers" fame) thanks to a bizarre murder in the fictional city of Vinci.

Farrell - the brooding Irish star who won a Golden Globe for 2008's "In Bruges" - plays a troubled detective with competing allegiances - to his department and a mobster.

McAdams - best known for her turn in the romantic tear-jerker "The Notebook" - plays a hard-nosed sheriff's detective, and Kitsch - who starred on NBC's "Friday Night Lights" - portrays a war veteran and highway patrol cop.

The first two episodes are directed by Justin Lin of "Fast & Furious" fame.

Mixed reviews

Can lightning strike twice with the critics? So far, the answer is not exactly.

While Oscar-winner McConaughey and Oscar nominee Harrelson won wide praise for their portrayal of two cops forced to revisit a serial murder case 17 years later, critics' previews of season two have been less convinced.

Rolling Stone offered praise for McAdams - and not much else.

"The new-model 'True Detective' would be lost without her," it said.

"Writer Nic Pizzolatto's fondness for here's-how-the-universe-works soliloquies suited McConaughey and Harrelson perfectly the first time. But nobody on the new 'True Detective' has the same chemistry." For The Washington Post, "there is something still lugubrious and overwrought about 'True Detective,' but there's also a mesmerizing style to it - it's imperfect, but well made."

And industry magazine Variety said while the series is "generally watchable, the inspiration that turned the first into an obsession for many seems to have drained out of writer Nic Pizzolatto's prose." Pizzolatto opted not to jump back and forth in time, as he did in season one - perhaps an easier format for viewers to follow.

"As the characters multiplied and their individual and group complications grew, a more integrated and linear structure worked best," he said.

And he created a meaty leading role for a woman, something totally lacking in his first effort and for which Pizzolatto faced criticism.

Now, it's up to viewers to decide.

"True Detective" debuts Sunday night on HBO, home of other fan favorites like "Game of Thrones," "Veep" and "The Wire."

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