True Detective

Common Sense Media says

Unsettling crimes make for complicated character studies.





What parents need to know

Positive messages

The overall tone is dark and foreboding, painting a picture of an unsettling world that's peopled with characters who have questionable motives.

Positive role models

Although they're good at their jobs and dedicated to their careers, both main characters are complex and deeply flawed.


Crime scenes feature dead bodies and some unsettling imagery, but there's minimal blood. On-screen violence is rare.


Nudity includes bare breasts and buttocks, with implied and simulated sex. Some crimes have sexual overtones.


Unbleeped swearing includes "f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," and "t-ts."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Social drinking, occasionally to drunkenness, plus allusions to illegal drug use (including pot, crystal meth, and LSD). A main character smokes cigarettes.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that True Detective is an anthology series that structures each new season around a different murder case and the detectives investigating the crime. It plays as decidedly adult pay-cable fare, with dead bodies and bloody injuries, unbleeped swearing ranging from "f--k" to "t-ts," and visible nudity in the form of breasts and buttocks, along with simulated sex. There's social drinking and drug use, too, from prescription pills to crystal meth.

Parents say

Kids say

What's the story?

Designed to run as an anthology of individual miniseries, TRUE DETECTIVE devotes each new season to a different case that's being investigated by a different crop of crime solvers. Polar-opposite partners Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson) star in the series' first season in Louisiana with a search for the twisted mind behind a series of chilling murders, all while they grapple with their own personal demons. The second season shifts to California, where a trio of brooding cops -- Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams), Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell), and Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) -- come together to solve a disturbing crime.

Is it any good?


Named in homage to a popular true-crime rag that debuted in the 1920s, True Detective isn't necessarily a period piece, although it does play with chronological structure via a series of flashbacks that bounce viewers back and forth between decades. It's definitely not a traditional crime drama either, thanks to creative choices that set it apart from competing crime shows and, in the end, make for smart, cerebral TV that's as challenging as it is chilling.

One of those choices is the decision to center each season on a separate murder case, involving different characters and casts from year to year, similar in structure to American Horror Story. That makes it hard to predict what kids will see on-screen -- and whether a new season will be as good as its predecessors. But judging from the show's first two seasons, it's a sure bet that adults are the intended audience.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the messages True Detective sends about good and evil, crime and punishment, and human nature, particularly in terms of criminals and the law-enforcement agents who bring them to justice. How do the main characters measure up as role models?

  • How does True Detective compare to the slew of crime dramas currently on television. From storytelling to cinematography, what things does this series do differently -- and do they work?

  • How does True Detective play with traditional structure? What are the pros and cons of its anthology approach that devotes each new season to a different case and a different set of characters?

TV details

Cast:Rachel McAdams, Colin Farrell, Matthew McConaughey
TV rating:TV-MA
Available on:Streaming

This review of True Detective was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Parent of a 9 and 12 year old Written byloco-geologico June 21, 2014

Great but for adults

Great show, but not for kids. For adults I could give a great review. But for kids it has lots of sexual situations and strip bars with breasts, and graphic child molestation/abuse. I think this would be confusing to even older teens who are just discovering what sexuality is.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 14 years old Written byfellaZ November 1, 2014

Great series but read what is down here

This is a very dark, unexpectedly scary, intense series, with the overall theme being of an ongoing Satanic cult committing ritualistic murder and sex crimes. None of that is shown on screen, but the fact that it is being investigated and is ongoing is quite disturbing. Also main character has problem with alcohol, a lot of drugs and smoking in almost every scene. Violent scenes are rare, but grafic.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Adult Written byviper_wings March 18, 2014

Life as it is at his darkest

I thought this one of the best series I ever saw Just because the deeply flawed persons > Cause we are all on some level deeply flawed and to show this in this way is almost heartbreaking You say there is no positive message This I don't understand cause despite this men being troubled they cannot let go of the injustice once taken place and try to solve as much as possible . The self knowledge of the Rust character is refreshing and positive You may not like his views But at least he has some ! Of course it is no children's series But with proper guidance I would say 15+
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models


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