Is Backstrom the next House?
Treading on all too familiar ground, ‘Backstrom’ is a mean spirited and uninspired take on the likable sociopath model.
Over the past few decades one thing has become abundantly clear — television audiences love sociopaths. Whether it’s Scrubs‘ Dr. Cox, or the titular characters of Dexter, Sherlock, and House, America seems to love emotionally distant yet brilliant characters. Sometimes they push into psychopathic territory but they still end up fan favorites, sometimes they’re the hero, other times a mentor, and other times villains we love to hate.
Fox is betting on that affection for the new show Backstrom, they even gave it the tagline “Brilliant detective, total dick.” Unfortunately Backstrom comes up lacking in the brilliant department and very heavy on the dick. As of this article, there have been three episodes of the show so far, all three have been painfully uninspired and lacking any real charm. The only real stars in the show are Dennis Haysbert, of 24 and Allstate commercial fame among countless other projects, along with Six Feet Under and The Office star Rainn Wilson as Backstrom. The rest of the cast is made up of fairly unknown actors. There are some pretty faces in the supporting cast but no one really stands out as particularly memorable or special. No one sticks out as particularly bad either, just forgettable.
Fox seems painfully desperate to create the next House with this show but they come up severely lacking. Most shows in this vein try to show the audience that this terrible jerk is brilliant and that’s why people put up with his crap. From word one, the writers seem to have adopted a tell and no-show attitude. Backstrom seems dead set on telling us ad nauseam how smart he is while showing us that he actually just makes wild unsubstantiated guesses and is usually wrong. When he is right, more often than not, the success has nothing to do with real detective work and more with dumb blind luck. One character even suggests that Backstrom works on a higher plane, that he sees the world differently and when he suggests a man is guilty just because he’s black that Backstrom really noticed his body language and read into his soul but isn’t aware he’s doing it and that’s why he gives such ridiculous reasons for his intuitions. My eyes rolled so hard when I heard this I feared they would get stuck that way.
This shows a primary problem with the entire show, instead of slowly building our respect of this character, peppering in bits of his dickish behavior, they instead try to force us to respect him by telling us he’s brilliant while saying that we should find his terrible behavior funny and endearing. Plus they seem to be trying to seed in possible future plot points far too early. Several times, ancillary characters have made reference to Backstrom’s famous father, a perfect upright citizen who apparently abused him as a child. They are obviously setting up his father to enter the show eventually and be in contention with his son. Then on the other end we have a gay, thieving, son of a prostitute, who is also Backstrom’s roommate. How Backstrom knows his mother is left vague and one character even notes their similar appearance. Uh oh, looks like Backstrom will be dealing with an illegitimate child who he may or may not realize is his.
These are the kind of things most shows would wait until season three or four to get into, right around the time they start running out of ideas. Here we’re setting these up in episode two. Not a good sign of things to come. Plus the show is already treading the clichéd, “Hey! This jerk is really a well-meaning guy with a tortured past and a dark side.” If we never get to know him as a hard-assed cold-hearted genius and the writers start deconstructing him from day one, nothing they do will have any real impact. Rainn Wilson is really trying to make the character his but he just doesn’t have the charisma of a television lead. Scenes where he attempts to play up some sort of irresistible sexual draw are played seemingly straight but come off as a joke.
From uninspired writing to miscast parts, Backstrom is a misfire on every level. Its police procedural elements are boring and its comedic elements fall flat. Barring a complete overhaul in writing and tone, there’s little chance we’ll be seeing Backstom again next year.