Mahershala Ali as beleaguered detective Wayne Hays.

A teaser trailer for the long-gestating third season of HBO's crime anthology series "True Detective" dropped after Sunday's night's brutal conclusion of "Sharp Objects" - and it's anything but surprising.

The show seems to have tripled-down on the elements that earned it both praise and derision: a famous movie star in the lead, unrelentingly dark atmosphere and pseudo-intellectual, dialectic mutterings.

To wit: The new season, dropping in January, stars Oscar-winning actor Mahershala Ali as beleaguered detective Wayne Hays. The plot follows "the story of a macabre crime in the heart of the Ozarks, and a mystery that deepens over decades and plays out in three separate time periods." Finally, throughout the trailer, Ali's character says things such as, "My whole brain's a bunch of missing pieces" and "This peace is more haunting than anything."

The teaser, with its washed-out beige-grey colour palette, isn't only reminiscent of previous instalments of "True Detective." Its final seconds, which feature snapshots of things like automatic weapons in car trunks, people hitting each other, cutout magazine letters arranged in a threatening message and a small (seemingly impoverished)child waving morosely at the camera, all bring to mind another show also set in the area: Netflix's excellent, breakneck-paced "Ozark," which returns for a second season Friday.

"True Detective" creator Nic Pizzolatto again helmed the writing, which should instil some fans with excitement and others with dread. The reception of the series, after all, has been a bit of a roller coaster.

The first season of "True Detective," starring Matthew McConaughey, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Monaghan and Alexandra Daddario, burst onto the prestige television scene like a racehorse out of the gate in 2014. The show, about two police officers hunting a potential serial killer in rural Louisiana, looked and felt like nothing else on television.

As the story began hinting that it might contain a mystical or supernatural element, it captured the imaginations of legions of Internet sleuths who filled message boards with theory after theory on the identity of "The Yellow King" and what, exactly, "Carcosa" was. Suddenly, HBO fans were pouring through the works of Robert W. Chambers - a 19th century writer who trafficked in the supernatural and whose work many thought the season was based upon. Meanwhile, the psycho-philosophical ramblings of McConaughey's Det. Rrust Cohle were dissectedad nauseam.

And then there was that six-minute tracking shot. The term simply refers to a continuous shot, one without edits or cuts. They're not easy to stage, so they don't tend to be too long - and if they are lengthy, they tend not to be too complicated. It was a bold move by Cary Joji Fukunaga, who directed the entire first season (a rare feat in itself).

As critic Matt Zoller Seitz described it: "The intensity and controlled wildness of the sequence - which follows Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and a gang of bigoted white bikers as they try to rob black drug dealers in a housing project, then escape before they all get killed - feels like a long-delayed eruption of deeply buried madness."

But later, critics began questioning the series, wondering if Pizzolatto had bitten off more than he could chew. Consider this: As the season passed its midpoint, the Atlantic boldly declared it "The Best Show on TV." After the finale, the magazine published a piece titled, "The 'True Detective' Finale: That's It?"

The theory that it was Fukunaga's direction, not Pizzolatto's writing, elevating the show become commonly believed. The show's second season only strengthened it. Not only was Fukunaga not involved with the much-derided season, but rumours of a feud between the director and Pizzolatto filled pop culture websites everywhere. As Vulture noted, there's even a scene featuring "the worst person in the world," who's "an alcoholic prima donna who alienated his crew . . . and this horrible man just so happens to bear a clear resemblance to former 'True Detective' director Cary Fukunaga, all the way down to his distinctive hairstyle." The website said the scene featuring him might be the "most passive-aggressive TV scene of 2015."

On-set gossip aside, the second season was generally considered a failure. Where the first scored an 86 per cent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the second garnered a middling 63 percent. That was surprising given its loaded cast, which included Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, Taylor Kitsch and Vince Vaughn.

The show was set "in the corrupt city of Vinci, California," and it was about . . . something. Something involving sex parties and corrupt politicians and murder and real estate development. The story was "a mess," as Salon wrote, one requiring complicated plot breakdowns. Things felt so dire that HBO president of programming Michael Lombardo actually took the blame for the series's failure.

It seemed pretty unlikely that the show would have a third season. Rumours swirled that HBO planned to axe it.

Things only got marginally better once the season was finally green-lit. Pizzolatto planned to split directing duties with Jeremy Saulnier, a respected indie director known for "Blue Ruin" and "Green Room." But Saulnier dropped out "due to scheduling issues" after directing the first two episodes. Daniel Sackheim, who directed several episodes of "The Americans," "Lie to Me" and "House," filled his shoes.

HBO executives, though, appear to believe the new season will be something of a return to form, as the network's president Casey Bloys said at the Television Critics Association press tour this month.

"The script that he wrote did all the talking for him," Bloys reportedly said of Pizzolatto. "When I read the scripts I was sure. It wasn't based on conversations, it was on the page."

Washington Post