Ranking Every Season of True Detective – Is Season 1 the Best One?

True Detective wallpaper featuring deer antlers and a red spiral with man is the cruelest animal text

True Detective is one of the best series still going on TV. It’s so good, in fact, that people are always looking for shows just like it.

The only issue is it’s marred in controversy because the most recent season wasn’t as good as the previous three.

That, and each season of True Detective is distinctly different due to it being an anthology series, so it’s hard to grade them against each other.

But I’ll try.

I think season one will always hold a special place in my heart, but I’ll be as objective as possible while I rank every season of True Detective.

4. True Detective Season 4

Season 4 of True Detective was objectively awful. I’m not trying to be mean, and to be honest, I had such high hopes for what this fourth installment of my favorite show could be.

It just failed miserably, is all.

The worst part? It actually had everything it needed to succeed. Jodie Foster as a weathered detective? A badass-looking Kali Reis as her tortured partner? The backdrop of a dark, wintery Alaska? Sign me up all day for that.

Hell, when I first saw that trailer, I legit had goosebumps.

When episode one arrived, I was expecting the world. Maybe that was part of True Detective: Night Country’s downfall for me; I actually hyped it up.

Regardless, Foster’s character wasn’t likable and her backstory had holes in it. She was a self described Karen that doubled as a sex addict. Her partner hated her for mysterious reasons, their complex past was never seamlessly pieced together, and the pace of the entire six-episode season was choppy.

Oh, and did I tell you how boring and flat the other characters were, how the main story was drenched in jump-scare horror themes, and it ends with a disastrous thud?

There were good elements here. Foster was still fun to watch, Reis was initially someone to root for, and the show randomly picked up serious steam in the second to last episode.

It was a classic case of too little, too late, however. True Detective season four had promise, but it suffered from poor writing, bad pacing, and top to bottom shoddy execution.

Oh, and in a very real way, it’s almost like this season was never meant to be part of this franchise, to begin with. I sure as hell wish that would have been the case, anyways.

3. True Detective Season 3

Season three of True Detective isn’t the best of the series, and it’s not the worst. There, can we all go home now?

In all seriousness, beating out Night Country tells us nothing. Ranking below the god mode season one isn’t exactly a damning revelation, either.

Many will fight me on this one. Season two was a downgrade from the glorious highs of the first season, but I do think it was a better, more engrossing season that the third. That said, the third season had some interesting elements, and did well to get us back closer to the rustic, tortured feeling season one dropped in our unsuspecting laps.

After going big with an all-star cast and many moving pieces in season two (and watching it blow up in their faces), creator Nic Pizzolotto and HBO opted to dial it back and corral Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff together.

Guess what? It worked.

The two operated as effective partners across three decades, touching on a dark mystery surrounding the disappearance of two children, and culminating in each detective’s twilight years as they get back together to try to finish the job.

A new structure helped resets the series, while the story was also riveting. Stellar acting and a solid pace nudged the third installment along, while the show’s development was assisted by a compelling element; the main character was trying to solve a puzzle in a race against time due to his worsening dimentia.

Despite it falling in at three in my True Detective season rankings, this was a really good season. As I said, being better than Night Country shouldn’t be a slight, and neither should being slightly below the first two seasons.

If you watch this season and want to put it second, I won’t hold it against you.

2. True Detective Season 2

Now we’ve come to the True Detective season that most fans love to hate. I think I know why. It’s because the first season was so amazing that there probably wasn’t anything HBO could have done that would hope to surpass it.

As it turns out, a really solid attempt fell short, and everyone took a massive dump on it. It’s scored below 50% at Rotten Tomatoes, largely because Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson aren’t in it.

Okay, it’s more than that. The second season was more complex. It was more grounded in reality. It wasn’t quite as dark, and it dealt with more “real” people and situations.

The first season took us on a ride. Season two was more detective noir and wanted to strip things down and drop us into a seedy Los Angeles.

It honestly all worked. The loaded cast featuring Vince Vaughn as a mobster-breaking-good, Colin Farrell as the classic drunk detective, Taylor Kitsch as the ex-solider turned police officer, and Rachel McCadams as a tortured soul just trying to make it out alive.

They all had their own story, and they were all organically intertwined together.

Was the story or execution perfect? No, but it was surprisingly close. This was still a well crafted season that told a lot of interesting stories at once, always kept you guessing, and tied everything up with a nasty, gut-wrenching bow.

The worst part about True Detective season two was that it wasn’t season one. The best part is we have the ability to go back and watch it again.

I just wish I could slap my old self in the face for not appreciating it the first time around.

1. True Detective Season 1

At long last, we’ve arrived at the best True Detective season. I’ve seen a lot of people on Reddit or Twitter getting cute and suggesting the best season of True Detective is actually season two or even season three.

Hell, I actually caught more than one person say (joke?) that Night Country was the best True Detective season.

People. Stop. Just stop.

The first season is what started this thing. And all it took was one quick watch of the jaw-dropping trailer to show you we were in for greatness.

And greatness, we did get.

Not only was the story just drenched in Louisiana grit, but we got a rare dynamic between the two leads, some awesome supporting work, a brooding story laced in debauchery and seedy acts, and one hell of an ending.

Two different timeless helped pieced together the case in break-neck fashion, while amazing character development and chemistry between the cast ensued.

And I haven’t even gotten to the iconic one-liners, all of the philosophical takes dripping from almost every single episode, and the ending to end all endings.

True Detective season one maximized every inch of what it had and left us wanting more. That’s what you’d expect from what I feel is the best single season of television ever made.

Hyperbolic? Perhaps. But season one is the best True Detective has offered up so far, and I highly doubt another season of this series ever trumps it.

What’s the Best Season of True Detective?

If you want the season that actually stands 100% on it’s own and nothing can compare to, the original season wins by a mile. It’s the right choice if you want elite writing, production, acting, and storytelling, too.

Honestly, cut it up however you’d like. This series exists because of how insanely good that first season was, and without it, this franchise would have been tossed in the trash can years ago.

Upon second watch, season two is a lot better than I thought originally. Season three is rock solid. And season four is a total dumpster fire.

I could go on and on, but the reality is the first season is god level and the rest don’t come close. That said, the series is well made in three of four seasons and is a must-watch for fans of detective TV shows.

Rex Ferder


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