It appears that NBC is trying to enter the supernatural sleuth series action like HBO’s True Detective. The network is starting at the very pinnacle of supernatural thrills, the most famous real life cult figure and homicide mastermind of them all, Charlie Manson. Manson scares the shit out of people to this day. He committed one of the most frightening crimes imaginable, not just the Sharon Tate/Rosemary and Lino LaBianca murders, but a deadly home invasion, something that everyone can identify with as a universal fear. Add to that the fact that the media portrayed Charles Manson as some kind of anti-Maharishi Yogi character, a twisted, hypnotic guru who stole children from parents and left clues in day-glow red. Manson wasn’t really a spiritual spokesman for the age of Aquarius, he was more aligned with Kaliuga, the age of destruction and rebirth.
Aquarius isn’t about the murders that made Manson famous, though. It is a cop procedural that takes place in the Helter Skelter atmosphere that surrounded his universe. That means sex, drugs, rock and roll and a bit of the old ultra-violence. NBC is pulling out all the stops to make this a relevant piece of homicidal debauchery. David Duchovny, who is also a producer, plays Sam Hodiak, a buzz-cut cop who has a history of beating confessions out of people, or if not confessions, whatever he’s in the mood for. Hodiak’s establishing shot is hitting a heavy bag, so we know he’s tough.
Duchovny brings the weight of his past to a role that needs gravitas. He was, after all, the spooky Fox Mulder on The X-Files. So the audience is already promised that things are going to get weird. Duchovny also did Californication for Showtime. So the audience also knows things can get pretty sexy. But how far NBC will go remains to be seen. Without spoiling too much, I saw the first few episodes and they will push a few parameters.
NBC brings a certain network blandness to Aquarius. This may work as the story progresses. Gethin Anthony, who played the magnetic Renly Baratheon on HBO’s Game of Thrones, plays Charles Manson as a rock and roll star wannabe who has a hippie harem hyping him. Aquarius opens in his orbit, Los Angeles in 1967. Mid-sixties hits are playing, joints are being passed, and bikers take a sexual excise tax before introducing girls to this enigmatic singer-songwriter. Anthony doesn’t play Manson with “Manson lamps,” the phrase coined on The Sopranos to describe Richie Aprile, but which could be extended to a host of HBO characters. Not on NBC, where magical magnetism is still taboo.
Young lovers skip out to a party, one that’s been going on and will be going on forever. Meanwhile, the Sunset Strip is under siege as cops throw anything beaded into paddy wagons. Hodiak is called in on a case by old friends. A lawyer and his wife who have a past with the hard-ass LA cop. He serves the rich. Emma Karn, played by Emma Dumont of Bunheads, the daughter of the couple, has gone missing. The mother Grace (Michaela McManus) is beside herself. The father, Ken Karn (Brían F. O’Byrne), not so much.
Grey Damon, who played the angsty teen Kitch Maynard on the HBO series True Blood, plays the narc Brian Shafe. He was picked personally by Hodiak to infiltrate those long-haired weirdos who don’t automatically assume the position when confronted with authority. Shafe is a nice guy cop to Sergeant Hodiak’s lardass, although because this is a Duchovny starrer, we can be sure that the sheen on the top of the brass is just a reflection of what’s beneath the surface. His buzz cut is piled too high on top and he can tell a Martin guitar from a knockoff.
Claire Holt plays patrolwoman Charmain Tully, an able and very willing young cop eager for new assignments. She sidetracks an undercover op while staying covered when the love generation gets a boot in on the bootleg Hells Angels enforcer.
Chance Kelly plays Hodiak’s partner, Ed Cutler, another hard ass cop who looks like he came straight out of a Mad magazine cartoon of a hard ass cop. Miranda rights are still new and LA’s big blue line don’t seem to have a problem circumventing it already. The narc isn’t yet adept at scoring dope from the evidence room but Hodiak knows a way to cop from local dealers.
The show is a little dense. Chasing Charlie could be a full-time job, but it looks like he’s just the glue that holds it together. Like Mulder’s sister Samantha and the aliens in The X-Files were the glue that held the team together while he and Scully chased the monster of the week. This will be a procedural with a few monsters getting booked while the Manson surveillance continues.
A few things are encouraging on Aquarius: Sex seems to be a mixed bag, but it looks like the audience will be getting some. Charlie is portrayed as working for some high priced clientele, putting him in a slightly different historic setting than the Bugliosi books. The show also shows people smoking dope and enjoying it. Even the narc is getting high from his own supply and promises that things will get weird. It does at the very end of the episode when we find out why the father isn’t too impatient for getting his daughter back.
The show ends on a double whammy for me. Besides the more-than-implied sexual assault in the garage, we also have to endure Wayne Newton singing “Danke Shoen.” Creepy.
“Everybody’s Been Burned” was written by John McNamara and directed by Jonas Pate.