Saturday, May 09, 2015

Backstrom Got Canceled But I Can't Feel Sad About It

I could have gotten the news from, you know, the places where you get real news, but instead I found out Backstrom was cancelled from Rainn Wilson's Twitter feed:
It is because of this method of learning things about TV that I read the physical paper nearly every morning, and a second, even more snobby physical newspaper on most Sundays. Otherwise, I'd be full of information about Claymore and last week's Game of Thrones, but not much else.
Claymore: It's like someone took the least interesting parts of
Berzerk and Dragon Ball Z and made them into an anime
about young women with oversized swords and plate mail miniskirts.
Anyway, I can't get too exercised about Backstrom, even though I did make it through watching half of the first season (about 100x more minutes of viewing than Maggie did). Before I get to the why, let me give you the most charitable reason watching Backstrom would be worth your time:

Rainn Wilson does a masterful job playing detective Everett Backstrom, a man whose childhood was being the "weird kid" who was bullied at school and unloved at home, leading him to become a deeply broken man whose internal demons prevent him from being functional at anything other than police work. He also has the self-care habits of a homeless addict and a misanthropy bordering on psychopathy.
Backstrom seems to take pleasure in two things: first, putting people who commit crimes in jail. Second, using the authority he has from being very good at being a police officer to verbally abuse everyone whom he has professional or official authority over.  Below that surface, he is basically resigned to failure and early death. 
This is what Detective Backstrom looks like when he tries to clean up to impress people.

Why is this not worth your time? Well, Backstrom would have been a great show if Backstrom's dark character were the jumping off point for an HBO True Detective season, or a series of complicated mysteries combined with character studies like the Swedish version of Wallander (like Wallander, Backstrom is based on a series of Swedish detective novels). 

But no. Backstrom was trying to be a semi-comic "murder of the week" show like Castle. This just doesn't work.

Every episode, Backstrom says intensely crass, inappropriate, and bigoted things to his subordinates, witnesses, suspects, and sometimes bystanders, because that's how he gets control over the world as he sees it. These are often played as laugh lines, as in, "look at how hilarious that Backstrom said that," whereas I often thought, "no homicide closure rate justifies allowing a police officer to behave like this." 

Instead of finding it intolerable, his coworkers adopt for the most part an "oh, that Backstrom" attitude where it's OK for Backstrom to be a somewhat uncontrollable jackass. Which is also disturbing because the reason Backstrom is a jackass is because he's a very damaged man, and nobody is helping him.

And the setup of the show means, even moreso than House, that Backstrom can't get better. If he stops insulting people all the time based on his deep core of pain and gets a shave, he's basically a generic profiler from Criminal Minds or whatever. And did we really want to see multiple seasons of a man who takes his self-loathing out on everyone around him played for yuks?
"My pain is nothing more than the fodder for your amusement, apparently."
Apparently Fox didn't think so, either, or at least felt the Nielsen numbers didn't reflect it. And I think that's wise.

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