I have to start off with a confession. The X Files is on my list of to ten television shows of all time. It combines my love of mystery, horror, science-fiction, and the supernatural. It’s a smartly written series and I love the relationship between Mulder’s belief in the supernatural and Scully’s skepticism. I’m also one of those people who follows actors I like (why I watch Bones and Castle and Wayward Pines), so I was excited to see what David Duchovny was going to do in NBC’s new series, Aquarius. (I promise a review later of the wonderful The Fall with Gillian Anderson.)
I really want to like Aquarius. It was sold as a crime drama set in 1967 Los Angeles so how can you not want to watch that? How rich with controversy and unrest can you make that? Then, there was also the hint that Charlie Manson in the pre-Sharon Tate era is a central figure in the series. I wanted to know how they were going to bring that in and make it work. (My spoiler for my post–they didn’t.)
I was drawn into the first episode. Duchovny plays Sam Hodiak, a straight laced police sergeant who’s ex-lover calls him to help find her missing daughter. Hodiak enlists undercover officer Brian Shafe, who of course is younger and much more like the hippies of the time, to help him on his quest for the missing girl. The tables are turned in Aquarius. Hodiak is the Scully to Shafe’s Mulder, and Duchovny is wonderful as the straight man. He plays the tough, old school cop adjusting to the new rules (such as Miranda Rights) wonderfully. And, Grey Damon does a nice job as Shafe, the undercover hippie cop who is trying to bring in a new perspective to the force. If the show would just stick to the 1960s, changing nation, how do we deal with a weekly murder, scenario I think it would work well. The problem is, it doesn’t. And that’s what screws everything up.
Charlie Manson (played by Game of Thrones Gethin Anthony) becomes a central figure in the series. I’m not sure why we as a culture are so obsessed with Manson. He’s a pretty sick individual who even now, at 80, has apparently just married a 26 year old and wants to have a child with her. I just don’t see the draw and appeal of Manson. And, Aquarius continues the idolization of Manson with everyone around him hypnotized by his presence. It’s just a bit unbelievable. Manson’ appearance and his relationship with Emma Karn (and the rest of the conservative Karn family) are what brings Hodiak and Shafe into his world. But, Manson wasn’t even in Los Angeles in 1967 and I wish John McNamara would have just left him out.
The series has great music and the feel of the tension of the 1960s is also wonderfully recreated through Hodiak’s character who deals with both a changing police force and a son who is AWOL from the war in Vietnam. If the series would have focused on a weekly procedural, it would have been a no-brainer, must watch for me. David Duchovny solving crimes–what more could you want? But, the “mystery” of Emma Karn’s disappearance into the world of Manson makes the show much less believable and a bit tiresome. I don’t care about Manson and it takes away from the larger issues of dealing with a changing Los Angeles in 1967 and what that means for the police force and for the community. Instead of tackling some tough issues such as the war and race relations the series just returns to the same old tired narrative.
The most interesting aspect of the series is how NBC has decided to release it. If you’re really into the show, you can watch the whole series on NBC.com. Or, you can choose to watch it each week to see how the action unfolds. I’m one of those binge watchers, so I watched a few episodes until I couldn’t take it anymore (so I needed to sit down and write a review). Even Kyle Secor from two more shows on my top ten list (Homicide: Life on the Street and Veronica Mars), who makes a weak appearance as a racist husband of a murder victim couldn’t pull me in. I just don’t get why instead of the creepy Manson we need the rugged, handsome Manson who everyone wants to sleep with all the time. Like Wayward Pines it’s being sold as a thirteen episode “event series”, but if could only pick one to watch (since they are competing on prime time), I would go with Wayward Pines all the way. Since, even if it does end up making me angry I watched it, it is drawing me in to do so. I guess I’ll just have to wait for Fox to show the six episodes of the return of The X-Files to really get my David Duchovny fix.