Squawk Box: True Detective Season 1/National Treasure: Edge of History

With the return of HBO Max to our streaming menu and the Missus' continuing obsession with the dark and twisty crime drama, after she caught up with The Bodyguard over on Netflix, I suggested we give True Detective a go on HBO Max, so we plunged headlong into the first season. We haven't gone back for the subsequent seasons yet because I think we got distracted by something else- possibly the new season of Working Moms and then we tripped and fell into Ozark and now we're... I don't know what we're doing now, to be completely honest. 

We did get through Season One, however. 

The season focuses on Lousiana State Police Detectives Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson.) Seventeen years ago, they investigated the murder of the prostitute Dora Lange and seemed to be on the verge of connecting to several unsolved murders and crimes and seemed to have solved the case. The stress and strain of the case impacted both men very differently: Rust Cohle lost his daughter to a car accident, his marriage imploded, and then went undercover as a narcotics agent which left him with a lot of unresolved trauma and PTSD. He is very analytical and cynical and the portrayal of the character is very much against the type of character McConaughey usually plays. Cohle is uptight and borderline unlikeable. 

On the other hand, Marty (Harrelson) is married to a wife, Maggie (Michelle Monaghan), and two daughters. Initially, he comes across as the more likable of the two main characters, but he too is pretty against type for Woody Harrelson-- he seems like the nicer guy. He's more grounded in society than Rust is- he's got a wife, a family, is good for going on for beers with the fellas, that kind of thing-- but as the show unfolded, you find out that he's cheating on his wife. His treatment of women is problematic at best and like Rust- who you find yourself liking more and more as the show goes on, if for no other reason, than he's fundamentally the more honest of the two, Marty is driven to an implosion by the case they're working.

Weaving in between the two men recollecting the case, we find them in the present. Neither are cops anymore. Marty's marriage has imploded. Rust has gone off the deep end and vanished for a long time and his behavior is unusual enough that the current Detectives interviewing them in the present, Gilbough (Michael Potts) and Papania (Tory Kittles) think that he might be a possible copycat killer who is mimicking the murder of Dora Lange. Turns out that's not the case and it takes some doing, but Rust convinces Marty that they didn't solve the murder after all, but they might be able to solve it now- the resulting confrontation leaves both men severely injured and in the end, the two men reflect on the ongoing battle between light and dark.

Overall: I know- I have heard that subsequent seasons don't quite measure up to this one and it's not hard to see why. The cast is just about perfect. The setting- which was originally going to be Arkansas, but wisely was moved to Louisiana- is also perfect. It's beautifully shot and there's something about the swamps and bayous and Louisana backcountry that just adds to the dark, creepy, vibe of the show perfectly. Thematically, it delves into all kinds of interesting territory- masculinity, cop culture, pessimism, religion it's thought-provoking sometimes and I love how the characters evolve over the course of the show, both throughout the original handling of the case and in the present. At eight episodes, it's a meaty morsel, and not a moment is wasted. My Grade: **** out of ****

In contrast, I am afraid I must inform you, dear reader, that we have to talk about National Treasure: Edge of History.

I've said it before and I've said it again- but mainly about the ongoing barrage of Marvel and Star Wars shows on Disney+: franchise fatigue is a thing. Here, however, we find a variation on that problem: just because you can make a streaming show of an existing movie franchise doesn't mean that you should. Or, more specifically in the case of this show: next time, just pay Nicholas Cage all the moneys and make the third movie we all want!

In the show's defense, it's... okay.

In 2001, a treasure hunter named Rafael Rios recovers a hidden artifact and sends his family into hiding to protect the secret before being killed by the mysterious Salazar. In the present day, his daughter, Jess (Lisette Olivera) is a DACA resident living in Baton Rouge with her friends Tasha (Zuri Reed), Oren (Antonio Cipriano), and Ethan (Jordan Rodrigues). Jess works at a storage unit and when she comes across Peter Sadusky's (Harvey Keitel, reprising his role from the first movie) locker, she goes to meet him and he notices her necklace and gives her a letter and a photo to deliver to his grandson, Liam (Jake Austin Walker)-- they decode the message and deduce that is something to with treasure, but a new player enters the game, the mysterious Billie (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who hold one of her friends hostage, we begin a new treasure hunt.

I'll spare you the details, but Graceland and Elvis get involved somehow. Riley Poole (Justin Bartha, reprising his role from the movies) also shows up. The treasure involves Malinche, Sacajawea, and somehow a secret society that spanned the Aztec, Maya, and Incan civilizations together to protect the famed treasure. And all of it was largely okay and mildly entertaining and then, somehow, they end up at the Governor's Mansion at a fundraiser to search for another clue and end up doing an elaborate dance number to Lady Gaga's Bad Romance.

And that was it for me. I checked out after that...  not that I have anything against elaborate dance numbers, but at a fundraiser for a (probably Republican) Governor of Louisiana to have me believe they would be dancing to Lady Gaga and not, say, country music or dare I say, zydeco music strained credibility a bit and was frankly cringe. (To be fair: zydeco music would have been equally as cringe under the circumstances.)

But it's all just...okay. It all just screams, 'this should have been a movie', because what is purported to be an exciting treasure hunt, a chase to secure the secrets of the past, seems awfully confined to Louisiana, Tennessee, and Mexico. The final confrontation is especially painful as the 'fog of death' emerges out of nowhere on a perfectly sunny day and then you see the smoke cylinder in the background of the next shot. Just... really bad stuff.

(I am somewhat loathed to talk about the casting on this as well because it treads into territory of 'hurr durr, so woke' that I don't normally like, but while the cast is young, attractive 20-somethings who are quite capable and deal relatively well with the material they're given, Disney was not subtle in ticking off the diversity boxes with this. I don't mind the diversity in shows- sometimes it's downright important and necessary- but when it is so glaringly obvious, it knocks me out of the show and undermines the actual performances of the cast- which were genuinely good.)

Overall: This should have been a movie. My Grade: ** out of ****


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