'Backstrom': TV Review

Liane Hentscher
Rainn Wilson as Backstrom the character in 'Backstrom' the TV show
Rainn Wilson plays a despicable detective who solves crimes but remains despicable.

A misanthrope who is obvious and predictable. So, yeah, a possible hit for America.

I almost didn't review Backtstrom because it felt so calculatedly jaded that my negative reaction to it might somehow be expected and thus become some kind of proof to a fictional character that his incessantly jaded view of the world was somehow correct.

But I decided to post something short just in case I'm right about this thing right here: Backstrom could run for five-plus seasons.

I just wanted to throw that out there, somewhere other than Twitter, so that it would be official and years later, when Backstrom is still on, I could say, "I saw what they were up to and I called it. Because the world is stupid."

First, let's get the essentials out of the way very quickly. Rainn Wilson plays the title character, a Portland detective who is apparently the biggest misanthrope on the planet. He's racist, mean, unhappy, drinks too much, eats bad food, is rude to everyone and is also — not much of a surprise here — very good at his job. People tolerate him because he's good at closing cases. Well, sort of. I'm not even really sure about that because the procedural element producing cases of the week is, well, weak. The plots are boring. Probably because the plots simply serve to give viewers at home an easy puzzle to solve. No, Backstrom, created by Hart Hanson (Bones) from a series of Swedish books, is really a character drama, and, because network television has to really stand out to get noticed, Backstrom is a character who really stands out for his unlikable nature.

My cynicism thinks that maybe all parties involved know this will work, that the show will run for a long time and make everybody money. So I'm going to predict that it does.

Of course, Backstrom could tank and I'll just say "I knew that, too." So, I'm covered.

Truth is, part of me wonders if the past regime at Fox (the new regime is not responsible for this — a note that I add to prove that I actually have some redeeming qualities, unlike Backstrom) pushed Hanson, whose Bones has been a reliable crutch for the network for years, to give them another crutch ASAP lest they topple over. (Which they did, with the former entertainment president being fired and his replacements putting on Backstrom because there's really nothing else on the shelves).

I would admire the manipulative process behind that, actually. It's a cutthroat business. If you need a misanthrope to not be ultimately redeemed, to not wink at the camera because underneath it all he's a good guy, well, I can support the audacity of that. Because on the one hand it says, "This is how we beat cable." On the other it says, "And because Americans are mean sons of bitches and they might see themselves here and find the reflection flattering instead of awful."

That's gaming the system on a level I can appreciate.

Then again, that's probably really overthinking it. I mean, Backstrom is pretty bad on a number of levels and can't ultimately be forgiven for wasting Dennis Haysbert. That's as wrong as Backstrom the character's boundary-pushing offenses.

Backstrom the show probably shouldn't get credit for boundary pushing, either, when the pushing is offensive even when it's predictable. All that stuff I said above about it secretly being like a cynical Trojan horse that might be appreciated for its audacity years from now is pretty daft as well. I was just trying to be hopeful. Unlike Backstrom, the character.

See, I needed a reason to review Backstrom the show, when reviewing it seemed so pointless. That said, if Backstrom does run for five seasons, I'm the sly devil who predicted it even though I take no joy in predicting it.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com
Twitter: @BastardMachine

comments powered by Disqus