No Big Ratings Bump for 'True Detective' Finale

Mopey Second Season's Conclusion Is No Match for the McConaissance

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Colin Farrell and Rachel McAdams in the second season of 'True Detective,' which lost viewer momentum as it went. Season one worked the other way around.
Colin Farrell and Rachel McAdams in the second season of 'True Detective,' which lost viewer momentum as it went. Season one worked the other way around. Credit: Lacey Terrell/HBO

If Nielsen ratings are anything to go by, season two of HBO's "True Detective" faded out as gracelessly as the signal on a lugubrious ex-cop's sad old iPhone 4.

According to live-plus-same-day data, the 90-minute "TD2" finale averaged 2.73 million viewers, down 22% versus the season one closer, which drew 3.52 million viewers and remains the series' most-watched episode.

While demographics aren't terribly meaningful to ad-free HBO, Sunday night's finale averaged a 1.2 rating among the adults 18-49 crowd, which translates to a little over 1.54 million viewers. By comparison, Rust and Marty's redemption in the year-ago finale drew a 1.6 in the demo, or a hair over 2 million viewers.

Bear in mind that the season one finale went toe-to-toe with TV's reigning ratings champ. In that same 9 p.m. time slot on March 9, 2014, AMC's "The Walking Dead" scared up 12.7 million viewers and a staggering 6.3 in the dollar demo. (The "TD2" finale's biggest competition was NBC's Hall of Fame Bowl exhibition between the Steelers and Vikings, which between 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. drew 9.81 million viewers and a 3.4 in the demo.)

Despite all the grumbling about "TD2's" lugubrious self-indulgence -- the tortured dialogue! those e-cigarettes! that sad lady with the guitar! -- and sheer narrative incoherence, this incarnation of the anthology series actually out-rated season one. Per Nielsen, the eight first-run episodes of "TD2" averaged 2.61 million viewers to season one's 2.33 million.

The big difference in the turnout for season one and two was relative momentum. A fever chart for the original "True Detective" deliveries would reveal a sharp decline between episode one (2.33 million viewers) and episode two (1.67 million), after which the show reversed course and grew week to week. In fact, the show had become such a pop culture flashpoint that ratings for the season finale leapt 50% versus the previous week's turnout. "TD2" trended in the opposite direction, bowing to a sturdy 3.17 million viewers before a steady decline that would see it reach a series-low 2.18 million viewers the week before its final episode.

Perhaps it was foolhardy for "True Detective" fans to expect that the second go-around would outshine the work that heralded the age of the McConaissance. And maybe you can chalk up season two's inadequacies to the abdication of original series director Cary Fukunaga or the fact that writer/creator Nic Pizzolatto could probably use a collaborator or, at the very least, a network suit who'll dissuade him from asking his actors to utter nonsense like "It stymies retribution .... It's like blueballs in your heart."

No matter how you slice it, the ratings for "TD2" were sufficient to earn the show a third season, and HBO has said that it would welcome another opportunity, provided Mr. Pizzolatto agrees to forge ahead.

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