Mahershala Ali said season three of True Detective shares “the spirit and essence” of the critically acclaimed first instalment.

HBO’s dark crime anthology was a hit with viewers and critics when it arrived in 2014, with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in the lead roles as investigators probing a grisly murder.

However True Detective’s second season, starring Vince Vaughan and Colin Farrell, was less well-received a year later.

Oscar-winner Ali is in the lead role for the third instalment, which takes place over three different time periods and tells the story of the disappearances of a young boy and girl in Arkansas.

LA Premiere of “True Detective 3”
Mahershala Ali, from left, Carmen Ejogo and Stephen Dorff star in True Detective season three (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Ali said the latest season shares similarities with the first.

Speaking at the season premiere in Los Angeles, he told the Press Association: “It’s unique all around, the spirit and essence of it is akin to season one but it’s just unique in part for the way in which the characters unfold and the focus being more on the lead cop.”

British actress Carmen Ejogo stars as Ali’s on-screen wife, a teacher who becomes tangled in the investigation, while Stephen Dorff plays Ali’s police partner.

Ali, who won the best supporting actor Golden Globe earlier this month for his part in Green Book, said True Detective season three effectively has three investigators working on the case, rather than the two of previous seasons.

He said: “It focuses more on one detective but it definitely has the help and support and the presence of both a female cop-who-isn’t-a-cop in Carmen Ejogo, who is very much involved and invested in the investigation, and Stephen Dorff as well.”

LA Premiere of “True Detective 3”
Mahershala Ali, left, and Stephen Dorff play the main leads in True Detective season three (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

London-born Ejogo said her character has a crucial role in the series.

She said: “I almost become like a third detective in trying to research it. I really am very pivotal in getting to the bottom of what happened to those children.”

True Detective’s previous seasons were known for their dark content and Ejogo said the third is no different and is written with “authenticity” and “feels grounded”.

And the mother-of-two said she could relate to the plot of missing children.

She said: “I have children, I can imagine what sort of experience that would be to lose a child. It’s not a far stretch for me to go there in terms of imagination.

“It was intense.”

Ejogo added: “The whole show in the end is a meditation on love, time, memory and how people stay together. In the end the relationship he (Ali) and I have is really what the show is about.”

True Detective season three will air on Sky Atlantic in the UK.