Jesse

Photo Credit: Connor Murphy | Daily Texan Staff

In the short span of two episodes, HBO’s crime anthology series “True Detective” introduced viewers to the most intrinsically complicated duo since “Breaking Bad”’s Walter and Jesse.

“True Detective” can be considered HBO’s answer to FX’s “American Horror Story.”  Each season will serve as its own self-contained narrative with a definite beginning, middle and end. The first season zeroes in on detectives Rust Cohle and Martin Hart, whose investigation of a grisly murder evolves into a 17-year search for answers. While the whodunit aspect of the premise is the superficial drawing point for viewers, the show’s most essential aspect is its psychological exploration of its two leads.

Cohle and Hart, played with fiery chemistry by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, respectively, are polar opposites. Hart is the good cop, a man who claims to live simply. He adheres to the stability of a married life and fits the mold of a good father to his two daughters. He serves as an entry point for viewers, and, at first glance, he appears to serve the role of an everyman counterbalance to McConaughey’s eccentric Cohle. 

As of the second episode, the thin veil of this self-purported family man has been all but torn away through his steamy love affair with a much younger woman. Rather than acknowledging this misstep, Hart instead justifies it as a means of keeping his marriage alive. This believable reversal of viewer expectations in the span of two episodes is a deft feat of writing prowess coupled with a passive aggressive performance by Harrelson.

Rather than continuing to explore Hart, episode two shifts narrative gears and brings viewers into the bleak and kaleidoscopically disturbed mind of Cohle. After a life of great tragedy and emotional upheaval, Cohle is a shell of a man who exists because he must. He enters the story following a failed marriage perpetuated by the accidental death of his 3-year-old daughter. This event spiraled Cohle into a whirlwind of drug abuse and violence, which further stoked his inner workings. 

The show has its share of dark humor, with Cohle often spouting his dogma of depression much to the hilarious chagrin of the more grounded Hart. From Cohle’s existential musings comes the show’s best writing, exhibiting a brooding tone that carries with it a hauntingly insightful wisdom. McConaughey is brilliant here, giving an unusually subdued but altogether commanding, performance that is unlike anything he’s done before.

“True Detective” is shaping up to be one of the best shows of 2014. In just two episodes, the stunning performances of its two leads have shown that this is not only a show about solving a mystery. “True Detective” is a show about solving the minds of two men by uncovering the skillfully hidden clues within human relationships. The mystery is just icing on the cake.

Photo courtesy of AdScott Pictures.

The classics of modern comedy are almost universally male-driven — “Caddyshack,” “Vacation” and “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” are all films defined by their male leads, and the women are usually relegated to the position of love interest. However, the success of last year’s “Bridesmaids” proved there is just as much potential for a quality comedy dominated by female leads. “For a Good Time, Call ...” continues that trend with its affecting examination of female friendship.

Co-writer Lauren Anne Miller stars as the thinly disguised Lauren Powell, a tightly wound girl whose boyfriend leaves her with an apartment she can’t afford and a life in shambles. Enter Katie (Ari Graynor), the audacious girl who once threw a cup of urine into Lauren’s face at a college party (an encounter detailed in a broad, funny flashback). Ten years later, the two get off to an understandably rocky start when mutual friend Jesse (Justin Long) sets them up in Katie’s over-sized, over-priced apartment. After Lauren discovers that Katie is a phone sex operator, her business acumen kicks in and the two start to build a bond as their unconventional venture becomes massively successful.

Miller wrote the film with her best friend, Katie Anne Naylon, whose real-life experience as a phone sex operator gives the film tons of comedic material to work with. “For a Good Time, Call ...” is often very funny, and the phone sex scenes are its most overtly comedic. Graynor handles these moments with unapologetic boldness, and her fearless, perfectly honed delivery makes it clear that she is a truly distinct comedienne. A few choice cameos (including one from Miller’s beau Seth Rogen) make each sexual interlude distinct, but what truly stands out is how Graynor runs the show, even when she’s talking to some of the most prevalent voices in modern comedy.

While its comedic side is strong, “For a Good Time, Call ...” truly shines when it’s focusing on Katie and Lauren’s budding friendship. As Graynor and Miller slowly fall into the easy rapport that comes with being best friends, Miller’s script takes on genuine emotional resonance. While both leads have romantic interests, the film is really a romance between two friends. While that certainly makes for a few predictable notes, the strong chemistry between the central duo helps to disguise the fact that “For a Good Time, Call ...” has the same structure as any other romantic comedy.

Also worth mentioning is Long’s baffling, scene-stealing performance as Jesse, the duo’s gay best friend. It’s a role that could have come across as extremely stereotypical, but Long throws himself into it with such vigor that it’s impossible not to laugh every time he’s on screen. Mark Webber is an actor I’m not very familiar with, but his work as a customer of Graynor’s takes a character that’s creepy on the page and makes him unexpectedly sweet. It’s a nuanced, earnestly romantic performance from Webber, and his scenes with Graynor have tangible chemistry, even when they’re merely bantering on the phone.

“For a Good Time, Call…” almost certainly won’t have the cultural impact of “Bridesmaids,” because its subject matter isn’t as accessible and because its stars don’t have the bullet-train comedic efficiency of Kristin Wiig. Nonetheless, it’s an easy-going, undeniably entertaining examination of female friendship, and its often-hilarious script makes it a painless use of 90 minutes.