My old friend Roger Ebert mastered the art. I would marvel at his deftness and depth, as a rookie sitting desk to desk with him in features. He knew his craft, he knew movies and he loved both. Even when I disagreed with his opinion, I respected that vast knowledge base from whence it came. And he made me care about whatever he'd just torn to shreds. Or praised.
There was another wonderful critic, David Elliott, then of the doomed Chicago Daily News, whose reviews of movies and everything else were like elegant little lectures. I didn't care if I agreed or disagreed. I saved them. Together they are like a book of fine essays, full of insight and "backstory" that illumined and ennobled each subject.
I was passable. I had passion. But I was young and new and not really a reporter in my soul. So it was hit and miss. And then there was this other thing. Something that made me feel a bit uneasy about the whole idea of reviews.
Simple thing we all know -- Ebert definitely knew it, which was why he seldom responded to comments about his work. It was this:
Reviews don't matter.
In the end, the people who agree with you will feel vindicated and the people who don't will be defensive. No minds will be changed. So what the hell?
But I do still read reviews. And Nussbaum's made me feel a little defensive. So I figured I'd say why and those who agree can feel vindicated and those who don't -- don't write me, because I won't answer. Like Ebert. I've made up my mind, and so have you. But the show had its best ratings yet last week. I'm glad.
The premise of the Nussbaum piece seems to be that the "talk" on the show is dumber than we're led to believe, that it's mostly about men making women look like shallow sex toys, and well, that's the gist.
But here's the thing. I don't think the talk is supposed to be brilliant. I think the point is that both lead male characters are a damned mess. Rust Cohle's nihilistic nonsense -- mesmerizingly muttered by Matthew McConaughey who is on a roll -- is a tortured soul mad at a world only he inhabits.
In his spare time, he stares into a tiny mirror on his wall that only lets him see one eye at a time. Apt metaphor. He views the outside world through the tiny porthole of his grim, gruesome life experiences. The world, to him, is a sh-t sandwich with a side of hypocrisy and self-delusion.
So is Cohle. But he knows it. And says as much.
And he's right about the world his partner lives in. It's a world in which solid, upstanding citizens cheat on their wives with the nubile young things Nussbaum doesn't like and beat up people they don't like, and then go home to find out "What's for dinner, sweetheart?" Cliché, yes. But tell me you don't get pissed about, say, about the politicians who do wrong, while pretending to be righteous. There you go.
Neither of these characters is going to win a Nobel Prize anytime soon. But Rust Cohle once mumbled a line about how most stories have a monster in them. Everyone in this story is a monster. They're like the creepy creatures you find when you turn over a big rock in the woods. Or happen upon a tiny tide pool in the sand one night.
You wonder who made these things -- and why? And even as you wince and shudder, you're fascinated. And you begin to see things that interest you.
I'm even interested, unlike Nussbaum, in the women of True Detective. Yep, they are often whores and sad, shallow young sirens with perfect asses. One of those whores, though, did a great job of putting Hart, the upstanding citizen, in his place by simply telling him he was afraid of women -- and maybe anything else -- he couldn't control. She was a female character I would've loved to know more about. His wife, poor Maggie, is also someone else we've seen before -- but then again, not quite.
That's what keeps me so engrossed in every episode. Sure, I know these people. I know this story. And yet, there's always something simmering and slithering beneath the surface that scares me sideways.
Every week they drop me into a seething, swampy world that makes me nervous. I feel a little dirty. I feel a little queasy -- a little naughty, too. And I like it.
Best of all, every minute I'm either marveling at McConaughey or wishing they'd get back to him. Whatever the hell he did while he was away from acting for a while, it worked. And his work alone is good reason to stick with this thing.
I intend to. If you're going to ride it out with me, say "Amen." If you agree with Nussbaum, sayonara. I've changed no minds here. But I've said my piece, as my mother used to put it.
Maybe that's the point of reviews. To say what you think, and maybe get a few more people to go see the thing. Bad reviews tend to get people to go see things, too, by the way. That's the irony -- Gene Simmons once told me he loved bad reviews for that very reason.
Drove critics crazy. I hope Nussbaum's review does the same thing. I really do.
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