Matthew McConaughey, left, and Woody Harrelson star in a murder mystery told from two time perspectives in 'True Detective' on HBO. (Jim Bridges / HBO)
Relentlessly dark and slow boiling, “True Detective” may promise more than it can deliver. But it still delivers quite a bit.
The promise has to do with the names involved. The series, which will follow a different crime with different characters each season, starts out with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as its stars. Those are two names from pretty high up on the acting food chain and each tears into his character with gusto.
This is a serial killer story told from two time perspectives. There’s the mid-’90s, when Rust Cohle (McConaughey) has recently teamed up with veteran Martin Hart (Harrelson), working as investigators for the state of Louisiana.
One of their first cases is the gruesome murder of a young prostitute, who has been dressed up in antlers and posed in a field. Cohle immediately suspects a serial killer; Hart isn’t so sure.
But this story is being told by the two men, long separated, in the here and now, as two other investigators question them separately about both the murder and their relationship. Hart seems successful running a private security firm; Cohle, though, seems a down-and-out alcoholic.
We don’t know what the investigators are looking for, but they’re definitely digging.
Creator Nic Pizzolatto wrote a couple of episodes of “The Killing,” and that fine show’s grimness holds true here, with the story slowly unspooling and each character’s degree of damage progressively revealed.
Hart is your more typical wreck of a cop, with a wife (Michelle Monaghan) worn and weary. But in Cohle, McConaughey finds the heart of darkness — he’s almost too eloquent in his indictments of the meaninglessness of life. His black hole of a soul drives the show.
9 p.m. Sunday