'True Detective' Season 3 Early Buzz: The HBO Series Is A Compelling Return To Form

True Detective season 3 comes four years after the second season of the HBO crime anthology series debuted to abysmal reviews, a far cry from the pop culture phenomenon and career renaissance for star Matthew McConaughey that season 1 spawned. Since then, the show has gone from phenomenon to meme, to embarrassment, with the aforementioned McConaughaissance waning just as the anthology series trend begins to fade.

But creator Nic Pizzolatto brings back the HBO crime drama armed with Oscar-winning star Mahershala Ali, who leads a season that critics are calling a return to form. See what critics are saying in our round-up of the True Detective season 3 early buzz.

Todd VanDerWerff at Vox wrote that "in some ways, True Detective season three is a baldfaced redo of season one. But maybe there's nothing wrong with that," adding:

In many ways, season three feels like season one with the latter's more idiosyncratic edges sanded off. There are hints of some terrible horror lurking in the heart of Southern rural America (in this case via the form of strange dolls that keep turning up at the scenes of children's murders and disappearances). There's a fascination with how systemic corruption approaches the level of Lovecraftian horror (which I'll discuss further below). There are long, philosophical ramblings in cop cars.

Indiewire's Ben Travers agrees that "season 3 gets back to basics — and gets good again," and praises lead Mahershala Ali's performance as Detective Wayne Hays, who becomes obsessed with a case over the decades.

Let's get this out of the way: "True Detective" Season 3 is good. Whether or not you believe the first season to be an untouchable classic or an overrated but well-acted cop show, Nic Pizzolatto's new episodes are a big step up from a second season as muddled and meaningless as that water stain above Vince Vaughn's bed. With strong performances all-around — and a flat-out remarkable turn from Mahershala Ali — HBO's third season benefits from reliable genre elements, a compelling central story, and aesthetics as lush as they are eerie.

Lindsey Romain agrees in her Polygon review that the season is a reminder of what made season 1 a pop culture phenomenon in the first place:

The result is a season that, at least in the first two episodes — which played to a handful of lucky Alamo Drafthouse audiences in preview screenings in late December — returns largely to the successful formula of the first, in which clever flashbacks and small-town secrets stoke the fires of conspiracy and mysticism.

Collider's Allison Keene calls season 3 "an engrossing return that learns from the past," writing that the season marks a vast improvement from season 2:

There has been much hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth since the advent of True Detective's mostly derided second season after the heights of its first, leading to a very fair and natural question of where its third season might fall on that spectrum. So let's go ahead and address this right away: True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto has taken the right lessons from the successes of Season 1 and failures of Season 2 to pen a highly engaging whodunnit, one which borrows heavily from the show's debut season to great effect.

Daniel Daddario writes in his Variety review that by keeping things simple in season 3, the "fleeter installment feels so refreshing":

But what's striking about the latest iteration of a show that's worn its taste for excess proudly, even as the audience recoiled, is its leanness. Tightly directed (in its first episodes by Jeremy Saulnier) and plotted, and with a performance at its center that steers away from calling attention to itself, the new "True Detective" transcends hype and amounts to 2019's first pleasant small-screen surprise.

The Hollywood Reporter's Daniel Fienberg agrees with the consensus that the third season improves from the "muddled" season 2,  largely thanks to Ali's powerful performance:

It sometimes takes shows five or 10 years to show you their best and worst sides, but True Detective arrives for a third installment seeming to have already established its peaks and valleys. As a vehicle for actors and mood, few shows are better, and with Ali front and center, the new season is easy to get interested in, despite a lackluster mystery that may make it a struggle to stay interested.

Den of Geek's Alec Bojalad also calls the season "a return to form," for the series, but to "a form that pop culture has since moved past from":

And therein lies the rub with True Detective Season 3. The show is good again by almost any measure. It's a near perfect copy of the show's first season and creative height. The thing is...what we want out of our television shows has changed quite a bit in five years. In TV time, five years may as well be 500. True Detective Season 3 is as stylish and intriguing as its first season was. It's also kind of punishingly boring at times. This appears to be another classic case of "too much time, not enough story." True Detective Season 3 is eight episodes long because seasons 1 and 2 were. So far, it feels like it could be half that length, conservatively.

However Uproxx's Brian Grubb disagrees with the general consensus, arguing that True Detective season 3 tries and fails "to re-discover the magic spark that made the first go-round so fun":

The main takeaway here is that the third season of True Detective is not quite up to the level of the first, so far, in large part because substantial hunks of its plot come off like a store brand version of the original. It is so much better than the second season, though. So, so much better.


True Detective season 3's makes a smart choice of returning to its roots to recapture the appeal of the first critically acclaimed season. While some critics are mixed on how successful this "back to basics" move is, the universal consensus is that the third season is a vast improvement from the poorly-received second season. Was the long wait worth it? We'll have to see when True Detective season 3 premieres on HBO on January 13, 2019.