True Detective, Ballers, and the Church of HBO

As of writing this I am watching a television show that involves an overweight Middle-Eastern man and his poor attempts at shooting a revolver at an expensive bottle of whiskey.

Tyrant is back.

But that’s not why I’m here; That’s not why I’m writing this. That’s not why, after several shots and more than a few beers later, I’m blowing the dust off of this awful blog and explaining to you, the readers, why HBO has made it clear that we’ll never get our Sunday night’s back.

I’m here because The Rock saved us again, and this time it’s on subscription television.

I don’t want to get too ahead of myself, because we first need to discuss the season two premiere of True Detective and why Vince Vaughn is more than tolerable (for once), and why Colin Farrell- the man I thought would be this seasons savior (and, fuck, still could be)- beat a man within half an inch of his life, all while telling said man’s son that he was going to “buttfuck your father with your mother’s headless corpse on this God damn lawn.”

Wow… was that not the realest shit you’ve ever heard? Colin Farrell is the greatest actor of this or any generation.

For real though, that was the line of the century. If you watched the episode, did that scene give you goosebumps like it did for me? As soon as Farrell -who plays Detective Ray Velcoro this season- slipped the iron-knuckles on, we knew shit was going to go down, but NEVER did I imagine it would be as hostile as that encounter was. That scene, that one scene, was better than all of season one of True Detective (is he being serious? You’ll never know…).

All jokes and weird murder-rape threats aside, I enjoyed episode one because it gave us exactly what we needed after an incredible season of a television show that made us all obsessed with Matthew Fucking McConaughey: it gave us something new to watch. Again.

And not only was it new, it was good. It was entertaining, and captivating, and dark, and mysterious, and different. But also, it was oddly familiar, like we’ve been here before. It was like ordering an item off a menu that has no description for it, a dish that you can’t pronounce and when the server brings it to your table…oh! It’s just tacos. Nice. We love tacos.

I enjoyed our first full look at what season two has to offer because of how different it was from any episode of that first amazing season of True Detective– I don’t want Nic Pizzolatto to try and present us with a regurgitated version of the story and characters we loved. I don’t want another Yellow King, or Louisiana bayou, or Rust Cohle. I mean, I do, I want all of those thing. But what I really want is there to be a clear cut difference between these stories. Season one put a lot out there- it raised the bar of what a television show could be in terms of story, incredible camera shots, and characters.  It’s going to be hard to live up to Reggie Ledoux stalking around his property in his underwear, carrying a machete and rocking a fucking gas mask.

But most importantly here, I wanted to be excited again. I want to feel anxiety because I can’t wait to see what happens on the next episode. I want to go online and see what everyone else is thinking- what fan theories are floating around out there and what angles people have discovered that I never even thought to consider. That was half the fun of season one: guessing just what the hell was going on. I want to know we’re going to witness an awesome story unfold on our television screen, one that will give us amazing characters and locations and shots and a mystery that will keep us guessing until the last episode of the season.

I want to be excited to see Colin Farrell’s mustache each week.

Fortunately for me, I already am. True Detective is back and it’s all over the place and I love it and you should love it too and here’s why.

Vince Vaughn- I know, right? I’m a Vince Vaughn fan in that I liked Dodgeball and Old School. Swingers was garbage. I feel like (and I know I’m not alone here) I find it difficult to take him seriously. I had a lot of reservations coming in to season two of True Detective, and not just because I was nervous that it wouldn’t be as exciting season one, but because Vaughn was going to play a major role in this show. A pivotal role- the role of the main villain, Frank Semyon.

I didn’t have much faith in Vaughn, but, with all of that being said, episode one surprised me; He was good. He was a tamed down criminal, a potential villain that we didn’t see the true evil in just yet. There’s certainly some kind of evil there, in that he’s clearly playing the crime-kingpin-gone-legit card, and I hope his truly evil side reveals itself slowly. Which, if season two is anything like season one, will be a nice, slow process. His character gets shit done, and I’m excited to see what kind of shit that will turn out to be. I’m much less worried about Vaughn’s acting ability in a more serious role, especially now that we’ve seen the connection between him and Farrell’s character. Which leads me to…

Colin Farrell- I don’t curse regularly, but fucking good fucking FUCK: this mother fucker right here is going to make this whole season worth watching. Episode one threw a lot at us at once in terms of Farrell’s character, Detective Ray Velcoro, but here’s what we know so far.

He’s got a weird ginger son that may not be his because…we’re just not sure. Neither is he. His wife was raped and nine months later gave birth to his son, a son that he seems to resent because of this uncertainty. Adding something even more bizarre to the mix, Frank Semyon apparently knows who committed the rape and now, in present day, has Velcoro (seemingly) completely indebted to him. Velcoro is on Semyon’s payroll hard, in that our man is getting money and bottles of Johnny Walker Blue poured down his throat to do Seymon’s dirty work, all while the crime boss just shakes his head in disbelief.

I’m very excited to see where Farrell takes this character, because if this first episode is any indicator, he’s still got a ways to fall before he hits rock bottom. And I really don’t doubt that we’ll see him get there. As the episode unfolds, we really get a chance to see what his character is: harmful. He’s ethically depraved. He has some morals, but I wouldn’t consider most of them to be positive or “right”. He’s bribing people: a lawyer, and even his own son (gifting new shoes for your kid doesn’t make you a good dad, Ray). He’s violent- we see that when he is sent to beat on the reporter that may or may not reveal what Semyon and his crew really are: the Darth Vader/Empire of the fictional city of Vinci, the setting for season two. We see his violence again later on in the episode, when he pays a visit the father of the child that bullied his son (I’m sure I’m not the only one that is interested to see if anything happens from this, including repercussions his son may face at school…).

Velcoro is an alcoholic and somewhat involved with drugs. He’s damaged- all three of the detectives this season are. I don’t have any doubt that Velcoro will have the most interesting back-story and character arc this season of the three protagonists, although it’s far too early to tell if that arc will be a positive one, or he will just evolve into a more evil, crooked cop/person.

Furthermore, episode one raised two questions about Velcoro that I keep coming back to: did he kill the man that Semyon told him raped his wife? Sub-question: does Semyon know more about the rape than he is leading Velcoro/the audience to believe?

I think so. I think the picture of the man that Semyon gave to Velcoro was a fall-guy, someone to put a face to the crime and to see if Velcoro would take matters into his own hands, or go arrest him and let the justice system do its work. I also think that it could have been a gauge that Semyon used to test Velcoro, to see if he could be bought. Now, do I think Semyon would go so far as to set up the rape of a police officers wife to see if the cop could become crooked? Maybe. Maybe not. So far, there’s nothing there to indicate that he’d be that evil to do something, but you never know. We didn’t think a landscaper could be the mind behind bizarre and brutal cultist murders either.

The other question is: what the Hell was up with that weird hologram(?) of the woman swimming in the bowl of milk at the apartment of missing city official Ben Caspere? Velcoro said something to his partner along the lines of “tell me you see that too?” referring to the strange hologram, but his partner made no indication that he did indeed see it. Which leads me to believe that it could have been a hallucination that Farrell was experiencing. Farrell’s partner seemed to be a bit outspoken, so for him to not acknowledge that he did see the hologram of the nude woman swimming in milk is just a little bit odd to me (if the situation could be any more fucking odd…). That being said, nothing else in the episode indicated that Velcoro was experiencing hallucinations, although he did miss a week of time when he thought his son was going on a camping trip the following weekend, when it was really took place during the previous one.

In terms of how this character is in “present day”, Velcoro doesn’t seem to care about any of it. The boozing, the drugs, working for crime bosses- it’s all part of his life. During the flashback where Velcoro is speaking with Semyon about the rape of Velcoro’s wife, he looks pretty clean cut. Something changed him, because now he looks like shit. His looks extend into his personality traits too- he’s impolite, reckless, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that he’s dumb. He knows what he’s doing, he’s a functional alcoholic and he’s good at it. It may have been the rape, but I know we’ll see a bit more into what led to his downfall. The shot of Semyon sitting opposite Velcoro, like they’re old business partners was all we needed to see. That scene in the bar was one of the best of this episode that had plenty of…

Awesome shots- As usual. Season one of True Detective was great in terms of camera work. That season also gave us the incredible direction of Cary Fukunaga, who provided us with amazing shot after amazing shot of the Louisiana bayou, odd locations, and great driving scenes. He didn’t return for the sophomore run, but I still think that season two is off to a pretty good start. Immense, expansive landscape shots are nothing new to True Detective, and season two has some wide shots of an industrial landscape that is just incredible.

There’s something about California that is captivating, and the industrial side can look just as impressive as the immense forests up in NorCal. I’m very excited to see where this season takes us.

I’ve see some discussion that season two of True Detective may have been influenced by the David Lynch film Mulholland Drive, and I can’t say that I disagree. Although so far, I think this season has this kind of creeping feeling to it, like in the Lynch film Inland Empire. I can’t exactly put it into words yet, but when I can I will let you know.

*Note: if I had to pick one favorite shot so far (besides the wide angle shots of the industrial section of the city), I’d say it would have to be the one of Semyon sitting opposite Velcoro in the booth at the end of the episode. It was clear who had the power, and even though Velcoro was trying to be defiant towards Semyon in the scene, Semyon was the clear winner here (if you can even call either of them a winner)*

Rachel McAdams- not sure if I even need to go on. McAdams rules, and I love her as an actress and, my Lord, is she good already. She’s stern- stern, but fair. I don’t even know what that means. But what I do know, is that her character has something to prove to us and to herself and to EVERYONE, and we desperately want her to. This series needs a strong female character and McAdams and her portrayal of Detective Ani Bezzerides can bring that to us if the writing allows her to.

Episode one shows two sides to Detective Bezzerides: a person that is lost, and a person that is hungry for success. The former person has, from what we see so far, a troubled love life and definitely some reservations regarding sex. We see that with the love interest she has in the beginning of the episode, and then later on when she discovers that her sister is a camgirl. She can’t fathom working in the pornography industry, even though there is something going on with her in the bedroom (bondage? something more?).

The latter person, the one that’s looking for success anywhere she can find it, is going into situations with what seems to be little-to-no background information, hoping that she gets lucky. We saw that with the “sex-cam” bust, which was no bust at all really. She had a shitty hunch, and, more than anything, discovered that her sister is more than a fuck-up than she is (well, maybe). At the end of the episode we see her getting kicked out of a casino- looking for success in the wrong places.

Also, you heard it here first: Bezzerides is going to cut someone’s dick off this season. She has way too many knives to not do it. Mark my words- it’s happening. And I’m not saying that because she’s a female detective and it would be emasculating for the person she does it to, but because SHE.IS GOING.TO CUT.SOMEONE’S ENTIRE DICK…OFF.

Right now, I have a feeling that Bezzerides is going to be my second favorite character this season, coming in close to Velcoro. Frank Semyon will be good, and I think all three will be better than Taylor Kitsch’s character, Officer Paul Woodrugh.

I don’t know much about Kitsch, besides that he was John Carter and was on the television show Friday Night Lights. So far, I like his character and I think Woodrugh will bring an additional…something to the group dynamic that will be Velcoro, Bezzerides, and he. Not to mention, a crazy backstory.

So far, we don’t really know too much about Woodrugh besides the fact that he seems like a good cop. I mean, he turned down a damn blowjob from some hot young starlet driving a red convertible! However, was this because hes a good cop, or because he has erectile dysfunction? Or is it something more? The scene with him and his girlfriend (at least I assume it’s his girlfriend- ALSO: is she the “missing” sister from earlier on in the episode that Bezzerides and her partner were asked to investigate?), we’re shown that he has to take some sort of pill to achieve/maintain an erection. Is this e.d., or could he possibly be gay? Or maybe it’s something else and I’m just not seeing it yet- I’m interested to see his character grow (not a boner joke).

The story so far- corruption and some kind of multi-billion dollar high-speed rail system in California. We have four main characters: a troubled young officer of the California Highway Patrol who may be gay and definitely has a scarred past (he has the broken body to show for it), a crooked detective that actually seems like a pretty good cop, another detective with something to prove not just to her father, but to herself, and a crime boss turned “legit”. Oh, and a super intricate murder that no one can explain.

Seriously, with this murder…what the hell is going on? Ben Caspere, a city official and (possible) right-hand man to criminal Frank Semyon, winds up dead. Oh, and he just happens to be a total sex freak. And he’s not just “dead” dead, but SUPER fucking dead. Like, his dick was cut off and he bled out because of it. And someone burned out his eyes with acid. And they did it while, presumably, wearing a raven mask. And then, in True Detective fashion, they made a big scene of his dead body which would ensure that it would be found. Jeez…

The whole stabbing of Caspere’s groin is explainable (there’s a chance next week that we will learn his dong is missing), but the missing eye thing is interesting. If he was truly working with Semyon on the highspeed rail deal, maybe…he saw something he shouldn’t have? Maybe it’s a warning to Semyon and his co-investors?

It’s going to be a weird season.

Earlier in this post I said that it’s going to be hard for season two of True Detective to live up to season one, but you can’t really look at it that way yet. Once season two has had it’s finale, then we can all sit back and line them up, side-by-side, and judge them both for what they were. I want to say that I won’t do that before season two’s finale, but I know I will. Right now, I just want to look at season two for what it is: something totally brand new, interesting, and mysterious. So far, it does have some similarities to season one, but we need to let it grow on its own without comparing it to its older sibling.

Ok, on to Ballers.

I’m not sure if Ballers is for everyone, but it’s definitely the most important television show on the air right now. “Why?” you might be asking me, SCREAMING at me through your computer. The answer is simple: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is the greatest actor of this or any generation. “But you said that about Colin Farrell!!” you might continue to yell, possibly between bites of a sandwich. What kind of sandwich is it? Maybe it’s not a sandwich at all…

Either way, we needed this television show, and this show needs us in order to be successful. I sure as hell know I don’t want to be the one that holds Ballers back, especially if Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson finds out. Do you want him knocking on your door, asking why you’re not enjoying his new HBO show?

I didn’t think so.

Hear me out though. There has to be a combined effort here, with us giving in and embracing everything that we want in a TV show: flashy cars, flashy personalities, The Rock, the city of Miami, Rob Corddry’s blad-ass head, bathroom sex, football. And Ballers is giving us exactly what we want. Hell, what we deserve.

Ballers is like a less shitty version of Entourage, except it won’t last nearly as long or get its own movie. And make no mistake, Entourage IS shitty. Ballers is supposed to give us a look at the lives of the individuals that manage the money and (apparently) public appearance of athletes, specifically football players, as well as a look at the lives of said players. The Rock, playing ex-NFLer turned businessman Spencer Strassmore, realized that there can be life after football. In his case, he didn’t shy far from the game, and that’s good news for us because if this was a show about him becoming a fishing boat captain or some shit, it would be unwatchable.

Well, not unwatchable because The Rock is still in it, but it’d have a way worse story-line and zero shots of topless models. Probably.

Strassmore is a charming, intelligent financial adviser that has kept his ear close to his previous profession: NFL linebacker. We see some scenes of his past, and it’s clearly difficult for him to have left the game. It also seems as if he had to retire due to physical limitations, possibly injuries that were playing related (I’ll be shocked if we discover that Strassmore was using steroids, I don’t think The Rock would allow something like that for a role that he’s playing).

Sidebar: did they HAVE to pick the Buffalo Bills as the team that Strassmore terrorizes in his flashbacks? What the fuck, man…fuck the Dolphins.

The episode unfolds and we’re introduced to some interesting characters: the All-Star that’s cheating on his wife and ends up getting killed by his mistress, the ex-pro that doesn’t know what to do with his life after the game, the current NFL All-Star that can’t keep his nose (or, in this case, his dick) out of trouble, and Rob Corddry. They’re all there. They’re all wonderful. Wonderful location, wonderful cast, and a wonderful idea for a television show.

I have nothing else to say, you just need to experience Ballers for yourself and take my word for it.

Now, please, go watch True Detective and Ballers. And if he asks, tell The Rock that he’s got another grandsla-err… touchdown on his hands.

Like this post? Hate it? Let us know in the comments section!

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