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A long day’s drive to police programs

A cop show is a cop show is a cop show; Even when it’s packaged as a prestige effort with an Oscar-winning star and expert attention is paid to the look and feel of the show. HBO’s anthology series “True Detective” has been an exercise in distracting viewers from this fact.

It was very effective in its first season, thanks to director Cary Joji Fukunaga and its Southern Gothic visuals, which featured Matthew McConaughey playing a frustrated cop playing mind games with several interrogators. Creator Nic Pizzolatto’s dialogue was rich (albeit rambling), and McConaughey enjoyed it. There’s real entertainment value in this. But in the end, there was too much hot air and too little real matter. If you’re looking for a television show with something to sayBest to look elsewhere.

Even so, the first season inspired – still inspires – the hype. Whatever the qualities of love, successive seasons have struggled to recapture it; This is also the case in Season 4.

This time around, the series’ name has been changed: “True Detective: Night Country” and there is a new writer, showrunner and director named Issa López. The setting is a small Alaskan town near the Arctic Circle. In late December and for a few weeks each winter, the sun never rises; daily life takes place amidst the inky darkness of the night. This is an interesting starting point.

When a team of research scientists gets lost in their impressively comfortable outpost, they find themselves naked and dead on the ice, their faces frozen with fear. What happened?

Jodie Foster plays the frowning police chief handling the case. He eventually teams up with a former colleague, played by boxer-turned-actor Kali Reis, who resembles Foster’s scowl. The couple has a professional history and things did not end well. But Chief’s police believe the investigators’ deaths are linked to the cold case murder of an Indigenous woman they never solved.

There is a suggestion that there is something gruesome and otherworldly at the root of these crimes, but ultimately our capacity to harm each other has depressingly human roots.

There’s an intriguing story buried here about the town’s indigenous Iñupiaq women and how and why they operate on the frontier. “True Detective” keeps them mostly on the sidelines of the story. The finale suggests a more interesting story that could have been front and center.

But “True Detective” is not designed to defeat its purpose. Throughout its four seasons, we watch as problems arise (or are ignored) by cops, one by one. However, existing structures are not challenged; the proverbial bad guy is always outside rather than embedded in the system. Focusing the season primarily on women doesn’t change that.

Foster and Reis play cops who are outspoken and don’t suffer fools, which is interesting up to a point. However, these traits supersede character development. They leave haunted memories behind—in fact, they repress them—and their relationships with men are often transactional or dismissive. Judging by the relentless dysfunction of the men in their orbit, it’s not a bad choice.

Kali Reis stars in “True Detective: Night Country”.

You need a solid hide to survive here. No one is talking about seasonal depression or struggling with lack of sunlight. It’s just a fact of life. Even humor falls short. In the sunless season, the discordant sounds of the Beach Boys shouting merrily through a truck stereo will suffice.

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Interviews ahead of the series premiere highlighted the connection between Foster’s role as the police chief and Clarice Starling in “The Silence of the Lambs” because… they’re both in law enforcement? The comparison is an exaggeration. The 1991 film allowed Foster to show us what thinking through a problem might look like. His character in “True Detective” is an impulsive type who carries a lot of emotional baggage, but he has little opportunity to show it on his face.

It’s difficult to keep track of the passage of time as one all-nighter day blends into the next, but even the mood is difficult to parse. Its dark truth alone — both literally and figuratively — isn’t enough, and the season fails to find its place in terms of tone or narrative. Even a twisty, complex story needs to be told with some clarity to draw you in, and I’m reminded once again that UK soaps outshine the US when it comes to troubled cops standing and staring in the bleak cold. to the distance.

“True Detective’s” first season was full of grandiose themes — “What does it all mean?” to be one of them, but no matter how much he tried to break this template, there was a murder mystery at its core. The fourth season of the series reveals another truth: A story cannot exist on vibrations alone.

“True Detective: Nightland” — 2 stars (out of 4)

Where to watch: 8pm on HBO (airing on Max)

Nina Metz is a Tribune critic

nmetz@chicagotribune.com

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