BACKSTROM: Rainn Wilson Previews His New Fox Drama - Give Me My Remote : Give Me My Remote

BACKSTROM: Rainn Wilson Previews His New Fox Drama

January 21, 2015 by  

backstrom-tiny If you are an aspiring TV writer, can I recommend first writing a novel, getting it published, and then sending it to Hart Hanson and his team with the hope he will adapt it to a TV show? This Thursday, January 22nd, marks the premiere of BACKSTROM, Hanson’s third “pulled from the bookshelves” series for Fox. The BONES and THE FINDER creator has developed a new show that pulls together a ragtag group of people setting out to make the world a little bit better — primarily by catching murderers.

Fox describes the show’s main and titular character, Everett Backstrom, as “an unhealthy, offensive, irascible — albeit brilliant — detective” played by Rainn Wilson. BACKSTROM’s 13 episode order has been filmed, and Fox sent the pilot and three additional episodes to the press. Additionally, Wilson recently participated in a conference call with several press outlets. Read on to find out what Wilson thinks are Backstrom’s best and worst qualities, how the show fits in the current landscape of society, and the difference between shooting a 60 minute procedural and a 30 minute sitcom…

GMMR: With current societal concerns about racism in the police system, how do you see Backstrom, (the show and character), fitting in? Fox describes his methods as “unorthodox” – how does that fit in across the cultural landscape right now?
Rainn Wilson: It’s a television show that’s relevant to actual society! There’s a lot of crooked cops; there’s a lot of racist cops, but once you watch the episodes, you’ll see that it’s not racism like you think of it. He hates himself more than anyone. So he’s racist against white people and blacks, and any other race. And he’s as sexist against men as he is against women. He just is an all-purpose hater.

GMMR: What is Backstrom’s best quality, and what is his worst quality?
RW: I would say his best quality is sensitivity. Anyone who is outwardly so insensitive…that has to come from somewhere. And it comes from a history of abuse, abandonment and neglect that he’s gone through. Not to get all psycho-babble about it, but he is a deeply sensitive person. It’s just been twisted and warped so much that it comes out sideways. His worst quality is that he is selfish. He puts himself first.

GMMR: Can you describe the difference in preparation between 22+ episodes of a 30 minute sitcom (i.e. THE OFFICE) vs. 13 episodes as the lead of a 60 minute procedural?
RW: Yeah, with the sitcom — no preparation! THE OFFICE was usually short scenes that were largely improvised. If you messed up your lines, it was okay. We always made sure to get one cut with the script, but it was much more freewheeling. And it was more about finding the comedy in the moment. Yes, there were throughlines in the script, but it was open and spontaneous to find those little gems.

With BACKSTROM, there is a lot of drama in the show and there are a lot of through lines. You have to be very aware of what is going on from scene to scene. And I have never had to do as much preparation as I had to do for BACKSTROM. I have never worked as hard in my entire life. Usually 7-8 pages of dialogue a day, long hours, and it’s not like he’s just passive in the scenes. He’s very active in the scenes, exploring and emoting and hitting the jokes, so you have to be really, really on at the same time. So it was really night and day [difference].

GMMR: Last question, just for fun: If you were interviewing Backstrom on Soul Pancake/Metaphysical Milkshake (an online community co-created by Wilson), what would you ask him?
RW: That is an excellent question!  I would ask him about his superpower — the ability to see the worst in humans…what it is that allows him to see so deeply into the criminal mind, and the criminal heart and the motivations there — to how the criminal element must be feeling.

My take:

The good:

•    If Backstrom has a catchphrase or go-to method, it’s his “I’m you…” statement, after which he verbalizes possible motives for suspects or victims. It’s catchy and feels fresh with each iteration, likely due to Wilson’s delivery skills and timing.
•    It’s a nice ensemble piece.
•    Each actor/actress does a nice job with his/her role, and while the characters themselves are nicely defined, there is room for the (fictional) team to grow as a whole — hopefully there are more opportunities to gel in future episodes.
•    Standout performances include Dennis Haysbert’s John Almond and Thomas Dekker’s Valentine.
•    Interestingly, most of the main characters make appearances in the interrogation room.  The interchangeability there works surprisingly well!
•    There’s a difference between a factual, direct person who comes across as obnoxious and a person who gleefully revels in being obnoxious/cruel toward people. Backstrom (the character) straddles the line but mostly leans toward the former. A third layer is more “everyman” — a brilliant, self-aware person who is legitimately annoyed by idiocy and ridiculous people and surroundings, and Backstrom has elements of this as well. It will be interesting to see which of these character facets ultimately comes out on top.
•    The pilot episode is (like all pilot episodes) heavy-handed on exposition and shock-value, but most of what I didn’t care for in the pilot is resolved/smoothed out in later episodes.

The “could-be-better”:

•    Backstrom is described as “the most politically incorrect person in the most politically correct city (Portland),” but I didn’t see a lot of Portland in the episodes…at least not much to distinguish it from any other large city in the US.
•    I think the network, cast, and crew are a little too cavalier about the whole “What a hilarious dick! Oh, he’s racist/sexist against everyone — it’s fine” theme; there are times when the show is uncomfortable to watch.  The dick/detective play on words is fine. The “uncomfortable, but ultimately good” behavior can work if it brings about social change and the other characters make it clear the behavior is wrong, but I didn’t see much of that from this show. There’s more eye-rolling than wrist-slapping.
•    Equally concerning are what Fox calls his “unorthodox” methods of police work. What they presumably consider ornery (e.g. forging a warrant, planting evidence on a childhood enemy to get an arrest, falsely accusing a suspect of shooting him vs. the reality of Backstrom shooting himself on accident), I call illegal. There are little to no consequences for these actions (Disclaimer: the episodes Fox sent out are not consecutive — as far as I know — so it’s possible that plot developments/consequences do occur).  Fox calls him unorthodox in the same sentence as “unhealthy”, as if smoking a cigar (which he does) is as bad as racial profiling (which the show flirts with). And it’s all capped with a “but brilliant,” illustrating that when it comes to the crimes solved, the end justifies the means.

Of course not all TV shows have to be about social change or growing as people through valuable lessons, so it’s up to each viewer to determine what they consider to be acceptable. I personally will be watching at least a few more episodes to see what happens, but I admit my interest is less on Backstrom himself, and more on the other characters.

Will you be tuning in to BACKSTROM? It airs Thursday, January 22nd at 9 PM on Fox.

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