All ‘True Detective’ seasons ranked worst to best

True Detective has been one of the standout crime-thriller TV shows to come out in the 21st century, which is reflected in the kind of fan following the HBO series has amassed over years. The anthology TV series came out with its fourth season in 2024, to commendable viewership and critical acclaim.

As with any TV show with multiple seasons, there is constant online chatter about the “best” True Detective season. It’s a tough job to rank seasons of a show that has seen some incredible performances and impressive writing, but here they are listed from worst to best:

4. True Detective season 2

Colin Farrell in True Detective season 2

True Detective season 2 remains a shining example of the sophomore slump, as the Nic Pizzolatto-helmed TV show couldn’t live up to the lofty standards of season 1. Set in California, the second season follows police officers from three different departments and ranks (Taylor Kitsch, Colin Farrell, and Rachel McAdams) investigating a high-profile case involving a corrupt city officer. Vince Vaughn and Kelly Reilly rounded out a stellar cast for a season that is now only famous for cinematography. Muddled with complex narratives, the season lost steam after a few promising early episodes.

True Detective season 2 sits at an underwhelming 47% score from 127 reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, hence its “worst of the lot” placement.

3. True Detective season 3

Mahershala Ali in True Detective season 3

After season 1’s landmark success and season 2’s disappointment came True Detective season 3, starring two-time Oscar winner Mahershala Ali. The series follows Ali’s character Wayne Hays investigating the disappearance of two missing children along with his partner Roland (Stephen Dorff). The Moonlight star gives a standout performance, portraying three versions of his character spanning three decades. The season hinges more on developments in Hays’ life than the mystery surrounding the children, but makes for a compelling watch.

True Detective season 3 is likely to be remembered as a cult classic that didn’t get its dues when it was released, as both the performances and writing can arguably go toe-to-toe with vaunted season 1.

2. True Detective: Night Country (season 4)

Jodie Foster in True Detective season 4

Season 4 of the anthology series was helmed by Issa López, who took over from Pizzolatto after his fairly successful run with the first three seasons. Released in 2024, Night Country stars Jodie Foster and Kali Reis in leading roles. There is a stark difference in the look and feel of the show in season 4 as compared to earlier seasons, the switch to female leads and the chilly Alaska setting being the main contributors.

The fourth installment proved to be a hit amongst audiences, with the season finale pulling in 3.2 million cross-platform viewers. It surpassed the first season in terms of viewers, while registering a healthy 92% score on Rotten Tomatoes. The only drawback was links to the first season, which seemed far-fetched and added little to the central plot.

1. True Detective season 1

Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson True Detective season 1

True Detective season 1 is considered the gold standard of television, noted for both its stunning cinematography and iconic performances from its leads, Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. Exploring themes of Christianity, pessimism, and infidelity among others, the show follows the exploits of detectives Rustin Cohle (McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Harrelson) as they investigate the gruesome murder of a 28-year-old woman in Louisiana.

IMDb ratings are indicative of how well the first season was received by the viewers, with all eight episodes making it into the top ten highest-rated episodes of the series. The show went on to be nominated for multiple Emmys in various categories, ending up in a win for Cary Joji Fukunaga for directing.

What was your favourite season of True Detective? Let us know in the comments!

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