Spring 2015 Review: Backstrom

28 Jan


If Mad Men is the direct inspiration for a generation of stuffy, somewhat humorless period dramas, House is the direct inspiration for a generation of procedurals starring a male protagonist who is savantish in his line of work while being a jerk and all-around misanthrope who can’t get his personal life into order. Backstrom falls squarely into this cadre of House successors.

Rainn Wilson plays Backstrom. An assholish cop with no friends, he is, at the start of the show, being given another chance to work homicides for the Portland police department after being demoted earlier because, of course, he’s damn good at his job. He sees what no one else sees, particularly because he makes dark and disturbing assumptions about everyone that others who are more inclined to see the good in people are unwilling to make. His life is a mess. He does it all – drinking, smoking, gambling, hookers. While on the job, he works with a crack team of oddball rejects, who for one reason or another, be it competence, personality, or sordid history, don’t fit in with the rest of the department. And damned if, for all his many, many negative traits as a human being, he doesn’t solve those hard cases.

 Backstrom is created by Hart Hanson, the man behind Bones, and the show shares Bones’ tone, feeling light and jokey with plenty of humorous asides despite an array of dead bodies and dark plots. Backstron would fit right in on USA; Backstrom is a character, and I have no doubt he’d be welcome.

Backstrom is a show that’s supposed to be fun, only it isn’t, and that starts with the main character. The issue is that I’m so tired of this character, the limitedly brilliant jerk, and I hope that America is to.  By no means do I need all characters to be likeable.  But there are two problems in this case. First, beyond being unlikeable it feels like the show, rather than being agnostic to how we feel, actively wants us to root for him, because deep down he has some capacity for change that we need to be supporting. Second, he’s boring and not worthy of our attention. Tony Soprano is often despicable, but he’s always interesting. Backstrom isn’t. 

There’s really all there is to it. By no means is it unwatchable, but it feels derivative and stale, more out of 2008 than now. More is expected of TV in 2015 than Backstrom is ready to give.

Will I watch it again? No. I really do wish weird character actor Rainn Wilson could get a better second memorable television role, but this ain’t it. Hopefully the police department will fire Backstrom and hire a competent police officer who at least makes some pretense of being cordial to his fellow humans.

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