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Tyler

Aquarius (NBC)

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Tyler   

Aquarius is a police procedural set in 1967 Los Angeles. David Duchovny plays a detective on a kidnapping case that leads him to investigate the counter-culture movement. This next part is in the official NBC show synopsis, but I'll put it in spoilers anyway, because it sounds like a big reveal to me:

Duchovny and his partner look into a cult that turns out to be led by a young Charles Manson. "He was a lost soul who desperately wanted to get into the music scene of the '60s until something snapped. This is the show that will explore the cat-and-mouse game between him and the police that will go on for several seasons, ultimately ending with the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders."


Edited by Tyler

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Tyler   

NBC will release all 13 episodes online immediately after the May 28th premiere.

 

 

“With Aquarius we have the opportunity to push some new boundaries to give our audience something no broadcast network has done before,” said NBC Chairman Bob Greenblatt in a statement. “We are fully aware how audiences want to consume multiple episodes of new television series faster and at their own discretion, and we’re excited to offer our viewers this same experience since all 13 episodes of this unique show have been produced and are ready to be seen.”

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NBooth   

Well, it's no Zodiac, no Red Riding Trilogy. The two hour premier--really just two episodes played back to back--is overstuffed with period signifiers (Vietnam protests! Bobby Kennedy! The Nation of Islam!) and period music (they must have spent a fortune on song rights) in a way that makes me really appreciate how well Mad Men--and even Manhattan--handled period details. Duchovny is good, Anthony and Damon passable, but none of their characters really gel in the first two hours--the trick of making the establishment cop more reckless than the hippy cop (who looks more like a refugee from any of the NCIS spinoffs than anything else) should be pretty neat, but instead it muddies the characterization. And Manson--who gets far more screentime here than I would have expected--is even worse. The show at first seems to be banking on Gethin Anthony's undeniable good looks as an explanation for Manson's charisma--a too-simple explanation, but one that anyway makes sense in terms of television-as-a-visual-medium--but as the episodes wear on he started acting more and more like a generic serial killer bad guy from Criminal Minds. The show tries, finally, to incorporate Manson's recently-revealed bisexuality, but it doesn't play quite right (although the scene of the terrified father, just out of a clinch with Manson, hearing his daughter's voice through the door is pretty good, at least on a conceptual level).

 

So. Generic characters. Generic, too, is the camera-work, which looks (again!) like it could have come from any of a number of contemporary cop shows. All in all, I found the show pretty disappointing--although, yeah, I'll probably go ahead and finish it for the sake of finishing it. 

 

EDIT: And here's The Atlantic:

 

Starting with its title, NBC’s Aquarius is a TV show at war with its own contradictions. The year is 1967, and as the song goes, it’s the dawning of the Age of Aquarius—flower children are converging on California, drugs and free love are flowing, but, sadly, there are still crimes to be solved. There’s plenty of weight to this “event series,” debuting Thursday, which among other things promises to tell the story of Charles Manson’s rise to depravity in the San Fernando Valley. But most of all, it’s a straightforward cop show, starring David Duchovny as a bullet-headed detective who has a few things to learn about the changing world around him—and the show’s rigid adherence to the conventions of that genre is its ultimate limitation.
Edited by NBooth

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M. Leary   

Thanks for this quick write-up. I am going to pass on this one. I can't bear this era done poorly, as the period signifiers are really annoying when clunky.

 

And I can't think of a show with a such a poorly reviewed pilot that turned out to be worthwhile.

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NBooth   

 I can't bear this era done poorly, as the period signifiers are really annoying when clunky.

 

FWIW--and this isn't meant as an encouragement for you to watch the show--but the third or fourth episode (I accidentally skipped one of them) gets a bit better in this regard, though that comes mostly at the expense of sacrificing almost all period detail in favor of a kinda-retro aesthetic. 

 

I've watched, at this point, most of the season (summer break) and it's...frustrating. The case-per-episode formula keeps dragging down the season-long stuff while the season-long stuff keeps getting more involved--even reaching the Nixon campaign. I could handle a Duchovny-led period cop show set in the late 60s/early 70s; I could really handle a Red Riding style occult history of the era. But the melding of the two is awkward at best.

 

I am, however, interested in the show's handling of race. Not that it handles race well at all, but it's a sustained treatment of black-white relations of a sort that I can't recall seeing on network television before. And, of course, the scenes in which Black Panthers hold forth on police brutality plays particularly strongly in the current U.S. racial climate. But even there the force of the confrontations is sapped by the fact that, at the end of the day, this is still the David Duchovny cop show and the Black Panthers are little more than obstacles--as much as white racists are--to Duchovny's quest for the solution to the week's crime.

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NBooth   

And just finished. Copy/paste everything I said above. The show starts to pick up momentum toward the end, but it's too little, too late. And the Manson stuff never really comes together in a way that's satisfactory or even interesting. The racial stuff noted above will, presumably, have a payoff if the show ever makes it to Helter Skelter, but here it just fizzles (and the other plots--the gay killings and the Vietnam subplot--are fitfully interesting, but they never muster much enthusiasm, topical as they may be).

 

Duchovny isn't just good, though. He's really good. He's much better than the season's slapdash construction.

 

Oh, and NBC may be positioning this as a miniseries rather than a first season, but the ending makes it clear that they're definitely hoping to go to series.

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NBooth   

Second season premiers tonight, fwiw.

 

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NBooth   

The first three episodes are on NBC.com. I'll probably get to the first one, at least, later today. Meanwhile, the first season is on Netflix US.

Edited by NBooth

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NBooth   

Two episodes into season 2 and I'm liking it quite a bit more than I remember liking season 1, for whatever that's worth.

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NBooth   
10 hours ago, NBooth said:

Two episodes into season 2 and I'm liking it quite a bit more than I remember liking season 1, for whatever that's worth.

I went ahead and watched the third episode. Most of the problems with the first season are still problems, but they seem less serious this year. Structurally, too, the season is a little more cohesive because it shifts between timelines: each of the first three episodes opens around the time of the Manson killings and then backtracks to the events leading up to the murders. Still, the handling of the case-of-the-week stuff (which has been minimized) is pretty awkward.

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NBooth   

Ooookay, then. Just watched last week's episode, which revolves around the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the fallout in the relationship between the 60s-cop-with-a-millennial-haircut and his wife, and I take back everything nice I said the other day. The characters act illogically and then reverse themselves illogically, the plotting is competent at best, and the treatment of race has all the subtlety of being repeatedly pummeled in the face with a ham. This is a deeply, deeply stupid show.

Edited by NBooth

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