When I first saw the previews for FOX’s degenerate detective series, “Backstrom,” I had very low expectations. Although the show stars Rainn Wilson and was created by the same mind behind “Bones,” the few glimpses in the promos already felt too familiar. But after tuning in I fell in love – completely, and against my will.
That doesn’t mean that all my initial expectations were blown away. “Backstrom” is very familiar, but it’s in a way that invites you to sit down and stay a while rather than inciting you to run screaming in the opposite direction. And I kind of expected to see a whole lot of Dwight Schrute, but it only took one episode to dispel that.
With so many idiot savants solving crimes and curing diseases on television, it’s hard to make room for one more. However, “Backstrom” has done it against all the odds – and here’s why I think it works.
That Old Mad Genius Shtick Feels New Again
Not since “House” have we had such a grumpy, unlikable, slothful genius at the helm of a prime time procedural. But Wilson’s Everett Backstrom is more than old wine in a new bottle. Something about the way Wilson handles this angry, alcoholic detective is fresh and compelling to watch week after week.
One of the things that makes him so compelling is his single-minded dedication to the task at hand. This is not a conflicted character torn between right and wrong. In fact, there is no right and wrong; there is only the answer to the crime of the week, and Backstrom doesn’t really care how he gets there as long as he gets there.
Wilson plays Backstrom so convincingly that you don’t feel sympathy for the character, but you don’t hate him either. You appreciate his ability to get the job done despite all the character flaws and bigoted opinions you bump into along the way. And when you do get a glimpse of a smile behind that cigar or cheap bottle of beer, there’s a little hint of a warm fuzzy that threatens to melt the ice.
The Mysteries Are Fun
One of the elements that makes “Backstrom” worth watching in a sea of police procedurals is the inventive creativity of the crimes featured each week. From murders disguised as suicide to teenagers seduced by urban myths turned real, there are no “normal” crimes or usual suspects in the “Backstrom” world.
Backstrom and his Special Crimes Unit end up on the investigating end of drag queen blogger deaths, cult pastor conspiracies, and the ins and outs of fortune telling gone wrong. And since Backstrom likes to put himself, ever so awkwardly, into the minds of his suspects, the varied backgrounds and wacky professions make his “I’m you” game all the more entertaining.
The answers are never simple on “Backstrom,” but they’re not too hard for the viewer to figure out either. We get to ride along the roller coaster that is Backstrom’s twisty brain and it’s a treat if you arrive at the ah-ha moment before he does.
Wilson Has More Range Than You Thought
I absolutely loved Wilson’s portrayal of Dwight Schrute on “The Office.” His character was one of the things that made the show so great. And even though I’ve seen snippets of Wilson here and there (the slacker store clerk in “Juno”) my lasting impression has always been, “there’s Dwight!”
“Backstrom” gives us the chance to properly mourn the loss of Dwight while celebrating the newly-invented and disturbingly delightful Backstrom. And, truly, there are few comparisons to be drawn between the two iconic characters, which is a testament to Wilson’s acting chops – and they’re better than I expected.
Even though both characters are misfits, socially inept, and supremely confident in their abilities, they are also polar opposites. Dwight was impeccable and meticulous where Backstrom is slovenly and haphazard. But both are utterly entertaining and riveting to watch, which is a compliment to Wilson and his eye for subtlety – even when presented with over-the-top characters like these.
If you, like me, were hesitant to dive into “Backstrom” for fear of finding yourself in the midst of another over-acted, paint-by-numbers crime drama, I recommend giving it a chance. This cheesy dramedy delivers fun, mystery, and Wilson tromping around Portland with a slicker and a cigar putting criminals in their place with a snide comment and an abundance of eye rolls. It’s not the most original show on TV, but it is one of the most enjoyable.
Photo Credit: FOX Media