Aquarius, the new 13-episode miniseries by NBC has one thing going for it; the lead David Duchovny who we can watch in pretty much anything. However, when you are watching this recreation of the ’60s, you cannot help wishing that you were watching him do his work in The X-files rather than Aquarius. The show offers a patchwork pastiche of the clichés in 1960s and portrays a hippy-trippy Los Angeles where Duchovny is busy tracking the killings of one Charles Manson. It doesn’t help that the star is just a prototypical square cop who has a punching bag at his house, plays a little guitar and can kick a lot of ass.
Nonetheless, there is no denying that Duchovny can pull off whatever he is given as he can turn almost all dialogues into something that you can watch for an hour as he smirks, winks and acts superbly. But the NBC series has tested even his allure and raising questions as to how long even Duchovny can keep us interested in the story of Aquarius. After the premiere on May 29th, all thirteen episodes have been made available online by NBC in a surprising move that no one can figure out. This is unexpected because it is usually Amazon or Netflix that give people the opportunity to binge watch their shows.
Developed, written and produced by John McNamara (In Plain Sight), NBC may have presumed that Aquarius could be a hip and limited series period show, but it just didn’t have enough meat to pull it off. Even Mad Men hadn’t found it easy to recreate the 1960s as this decade is more or less lost to corny and clichéd costume dramas. Even five decades later, it is immensely difficult to pull off the 1960s and most of the time it sounds and looks pretty silly. But, McNamara mostly goes after it because people who work in Los Angeles in 2015 find the Los Angeles of 1967 rather alluring.
The real problem is making a miniseries about Charles Manson (Gethin Anthony), old school cops, hippies, Republican politics and race relations without making it come off as a huge stereotype before it even gets off the ground. Clearly, Aquarius doesn’t know how to solve this issue. Manson is just a less mesmerizing and scary presence as opposed to a hipster with songs that are supposed to be great, but are intolerably pale when compared to some of the big and pricey hits of the era.
Duchovny is playing the role of Detective Sam Hodiak, which sounds more and more like Zodiac every time we hear it. He portrays an old school cop who has the habit of kicking around minorities and hippies because that’s exactly what cops did back then. In an odd couple yet conventional setup, he gets a young partner Brian Shafe (Grey Damon), who looks more like a hippie, but is actually a cop. The two don’t manage to establish a connection, which, in simple terms, means that Brian is no Scully. Anthony doesn’t manage to be very convincing in the role of Manson.
As he lacks allure and charm, all the ‘girls’ who flip for his character come off as clueless and their attraction seems rather inconceivable. The center of the story revolves around Emma Karn (Emma Dumont), who is a 16-year old runaway girl. The unsuccessful marriage of her parents (Michaela McManus and Brian F. O’Byrne) appears to be a rather unsuccessful and disastrous attempt to drive the girl into the arms of Charlie Manson. The dynamics of the Karn family seem more annoying than representing the generational divide of the 1960s or being scary. Their issues are relatively mild and getting invested in the storyline isn’t easy and just aren’t a convenient guise to get Emma to Charlie.
The lack of investment and the mild quality plagues the entire series. Just like you can’t help wishing that Duchovny was Mulder, you want Manson to be scarier and want the time and place to be more atmospheric rather than feeling dated. Unless there are some Man Men outtakes somewhere, maybe it is time to take a break and not watch the impossible 60s. The decade has been done to death and the only thing left is the copycat impression of stereotypes and well-worn tropes, which even Duchovny cannot freshen up much.