Aquarius: David Duchovny in Search of Manson

Promo shot of Aquarius

Period drama used to mean anything that dealt with the time of Jane Austin, pantaloons, Mr. Darcy and Tara. With the long running success of AMC’s Mad Men, it now seems that the 1960s has replaced the earlier horse drawn romantic boilers. Consider, if you will, that the only other period piece to come from AMC, apart from Halt & Catch Fire set in the 1980s (which some people must like since it has come back for a second season) is the network’s nod to patriotism Turn: Washington’s Spies which is another of those dismal attempts to look back at America’s Revolutionary War which has also been brought back, rather inexplicably, for another season. Aquarius, stars David Duchovny as the “hip” detective in search of Charlie Manson “pre-Helter Skelter.

Once again, the 1960s have been revisited and unlike Mad Men, which really celebrated the “good old days of endless cigarettes and three martini lunches,” Aquarius looks at the more unpleasant side of the time. Sure this was the era of “free love” dropping acid and “tuning out and turning on” but it also had the Black Panthers militaristic movement, enough racial prejudice and hatred to sink a far few battleships and the “establishment” vs the hippies.

In one scene, the undercover narcotics officer, referred to as a “Narc” (and you will really show your age if that term means anything to you at all), becomes an underling for Detective Hodiak and one of the other cops asks if Shafe (played by Grey Damon) is going to get a hair cut. The Vietnam war is in full swing and a lot of protestors are heading for countries outside the US borders in order to avoid the draft.

On a side note: Has anyone else noticed that “Hodiak” rhymes with Zodiac as in the killer who tormented the police through the 60s and 70s? Surely this name choice is no coincidence.

NBC has opted to run the show on Hulu where one can “watch the full event series.” A bold move that either signifies supreme confidence in the show or just the opposite. Thus far, several sites have reported that the viewing figures for the show are “disappointing.” Rather an odd prognosis for a show that just opened on 28 May via the network but can be viewed in one fell swoop on Hulu. How are audience figures adequately counted in this instance?

The network advertises that the entire season can be watched, not only online via Hulu, but via on-demand and “on the NBC app!” Surely it is too soon to really say whether the figures are good, bad, or indifferent.

Aquarius does seem to be fairly interesting, combining real people, Manson for example, with fictional ones in order to take a look at the “run up” to the Sharon Tate murder (as well as Jay Sebring and a number of others) and just how “Charlie” got started. The show features a cop who may, or may not, be an recovering alcoholic, an undercover officer along the lines of Frank Serpico and a black “militant” Muslim in the stamp of Malcolm X.

Not wanting to watch the entire series in one go, I opted to take in the first two episodes via Hulu. Overall the show is not bad and of course it goes without saying that Duchovny is incapable of giving a bad performance. Casting Brit actor Gethin Anthony as Charles Manson has annoyed some but, to be fair, it is early days yet and he may still fit the bill.

As this is a fictional telling of Manson’s journey before he got the world’s attention for the murders committed by his “gang” the tale can go pretty much where it wants. Never mind that in reality, Charlie was a short (5’2″) scrawny, and unattractive, psychopath who used drugs and his delusional belief that he was a prophet of doom to rule a group of misfits and antisocial teens and young adults. By the time the murders took place Manson was a 32 year old institutionalized career criminal who discovered music, instead of religion, while in prison and was “really quite good” on a guitar.

The show is entertaining to a degree and it can be seen in its entirety on Hulu, on-demand, and on the NBC app, as stated above. The actors all turn in some satisfactory performances and the series does have a pretty decent “60s feel” to it. For those who do not want to watch the whole “period” drama at once, or who do not have the time, it can be seen on the network on Thursdays.

30 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

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