FOX has a daring bet it’s making on Backstrom, and though we might not like to admit to the pigeonholing it entails, a lot of people are going to have to take Rainn Wilson in exactly the right way for the show to take off. We’ll have to hope it works out, because this is the coolest show in a long time, and Wilson is perfect.
The trick here is that the show may need the help of Rainn Wilson as draw, but that audience also has to be able to distance themselves from Dwight Schrute. Wilson has obviously been around, but to a large percentage of people he is either no one, or Dwight, and you aren’t getting anything like Dwight here.
Backstrom, for the sake of brevity, is a kind of slovenly, “Seinfeld generation” Sherlock Holmes. He’s quick with a quip, and about as obnoxious as you can be without spending the better part of your day being punched in the face, and he’s a genius. The series opens with him returning to the Portland Special Crimes Unit after spending several years on traffic division punishment.
His main trick is something akin to empathy as superpower, and when he puts himself in your shoes, he knows everything about you. Actually, that may only be his second best trick, because where he really excels is in his ability to annoy the hell out of everyone he comes in contact with. This makes it difficult to work as part of team, especially when you’re convinced that you’re smarter than everyone else, and have no ability to keep from just rattling off whatever thoughts enter your head.
It’s best described as a police procedural that is trying its best not to be, in much the way that part of Backstrom’s effort must constantly be to change his reputation, if he wants to keep from some other demotion, but he’s never actually trying to change his reputation, at all.
With Backstrom’s personality leading any charge, the show takes a significant amount of time to dodge the hurdles he creates for himself, and expose his personal life. It luckily has a great cast and solid writing, because the show is a gamble even beyond just Wilson’s casting. It’s much like when House M.D. first came out. It went well, sure, but it’s easy to think about how that show could have easily gone sideways, and just been that show about that jerk Doctor that lasted two episodes. It’s a delicate balance that takes just the right actor, and Wilson nails it.
The rest of the cast holds their own with him, which is surprising in some cases, but Dennis Haysbert stands out, as he almost always does. A veteran cop who knows Backstrom well, Haysbert plays a tricky character as well. Cop, part-time church leader, and occasionally almost serving as the show’s narration, he pulls you into the show in a way that makes you glad he isn’t trying to sell you anything…
This is one that may merit checking back in, especially considering that creator Hart Hanson’s Bones only took a couple of seasons to fly off the rails, but through the first few episodes it is easily the most fun on television. Of course, a police “drama” that is described as the most fun on television might be something a lot of people can’t wait to miss, but this is one that everyone ought to give a chance. Even if nothing about the show appeals to you, you’ll probably be surprised at what the show turns out to be.
Backstrom Full Official Synopsis
From creator/executive producer Hart Hanson (BONES), BACKSTROM is a subversive and comic crime procedural about an unhealthy, offensive, irascible – albeit brilliant – detective who is brought back from exile to run the Portland Police Bureau’s Special Crimes Unit (S.C.U.).
Detective Lieutenant EVERETT BACKSTROM (Emmy Award nominee Rainn Wilson, “The Office”) is a man with no filter. After a five-year exile to the traffic division for offensive behavior, he has returned from disgrace to lead Portland’s newly minted S.C.U. Tasked with navigating the city’s most sensitive and serious cases, he must solve each crime as he tries, and fails, to change his own self-destructive behavior.
To no one’s surprise, Backstrom’s return is far from well-received, especially by his commanding officer, Police Chief ANNA CERVANTES. Running the day-to-day operations of the S.C.U. is Detective NICOLE GRAVELY (Genevieve Angelson, “House of Lies”) the ambitious and optimistic yin to Backstrom’s yang, she extends herself to the limit to counterbalance his erratic and controversial behavior. By her side is Detective Sergeant JOHN ALMOND (Dennis Haysbert, “24,” “The Unit”), a tested veteran of the Bureau who doesn’t approve of Backstrom’s xenophobic antics; although he tries to find the light in people, when it comes to Backstrom, he sees only darkness.
The group’s forensics liaison is Sergeant PETER NIEDERMAYER (Kristoffer Polaha, “Ringer,” “Life Unexpected”), a handsome, free-spirited, philosophical man whose open approach to the universe pushes all of Backstrom’s buttons. Managing the chain of evidence at S.C.U. headquarters is civilian support NADIA PAQUET (Beatrice Rosen, “The Dark Knight”), a beautiful French immigrant with a profound ability to navigate cyberspace. She also takes a liking to Backstrom and, at least technically, fills Backstrom’s doctor’s prescription to “make a friend.”
On the street, uniformed officer FRANK MOTO (Page Kennedy, “Blue Mountain State,” “Weeds.”) proves his value by suppressing the perpetrators and swiftly maneuvering around hostile conditions. Meanwhile, GREGORY VALENTINE (Thomas Dekker, “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”), who serves as Backstrom’s tenant, decorator and underworld connection, has a genuine fondness for the abrasive cop.
Using his dark instincts and peculiar abilities, Backstrom always manages to outsmart his foes, manipulate his peers and, with the help of his eccentric team, solve the case, even as he less ably adjusts to the progressive sensibilities of 21st century Portland.