Four episodes of the first season of “Backstrom” were provided for review purposes prior to broadcast.
Fox’s new police procedural Backstrom is one of the least fresh-feeling dramas that the network has premiered in some time. It continues Fox’s time-honored tradition of building shows around a toxic genius character, as abrasive and irritable as he is brilliant (from House to Lie to Me to recently failed Rake, it seems that Fox has an anti-hero complex). Backstrom also shares showrunner DNA with long-running detective show Bones and its one-and-done spinoff The Finder. And even its setting, perpetually rainy Portland, has been in use by another network’s crime procedural for years (NBC’s Grimm).
The only compliment that could be easily directed at Backstrom is that it appears built to last. That showrunner, Hart Hanson, works fast to establish a sturdy (if painfully familiar) formula, blending homicide cases with minute character development week after week. After only viewing four episodes of the series, it’s easy to imagine Backstrom staying on the air for as long as House did (provided the ratings don’t take a nose-dive). It’s both unenterprising and robust enough for Fox to go all in, should audiences stick around.
Whether those audiences will prove loyal, though, is a different question entirely. Star Rainn Wilson surely has some residual star power after manning The Office for years over on NBC, and he’s playing another irascible brainiac, the same type of character on which he’s made his name as an actor. If crowds actually want to see Wilson play to those strengths again, Backstrom is a solid vehicle in which he can do that. But make no bones about it – Wilson is the entire show, and any attempt to develop his colleagues past the props stage seems likely to blow up in Backstrom‘s face. Outside of his performance, the series has no pulse.
Maybe the loutish, lewd Everett Backstrom will alone be enough to keep the show afloat. He’s presented as the misanthrope to end all misanthropes: racist, sexist, belligerent, miserable, unhealthy and perpetually inebriated. The only reason that his colleagues tolerate all his vices, or so the show tells us, is that he’s also stunningly good at his job. Those aforementioned anti-hero dramas, especially House, utilized a deeply similar premise.