On June 16, NBC will launch the second season of the 1960s-set crime drama Aquarius with a two-hour, commercial-free premiere. It’s a large vote of confidence from the network of a series that failed to draw a large TV audience during its freshmen season. And you know what? It’s totally merited, because David Duchovny’s Sumer of Love detective show is unique in the landscape of network television (it’s also not the failure you think it is).
Sam Hodiak (Duchovny) is an aging detective working in 1967 Los Angeles, who’s dealing with both a new partner and a tough case. The mystery, which involves a missing young woman named Emma who’s taken up with the Manson family, is a bit personal, making it even more difficult. Hodiak is sent through Los Angeles in search of the girl as he navigates one of the most tumultuous times in the city’s history.
It may not be The Wire, but Aquarius is still a fun ride through a bygone era. As Sam Hodiak, Duchovny is as magnetic as he’s ever been. And while the 1960s setting around the players may have a slightly false feeling to it, the moment-to-moment action occasional moments of clarity make the show well worth your time.
‘Aquarius’ Is Popular
When it premiered last summer, Aquarius was something of an experiment for NBC — and a gamble that has actually paid off. While its two-hour series premiere was the lowest-rated original show in its time slot, every episode in season one became available to stream at nbc.com for a limited four week release.
It was the strong digital performance in those first four weeks that secured Aquarius a second season. And that success just might put NBC ahead of the curve if the recent rumors of Nielsen’s shift to a live-plus-35-day ratings system hold any water.
And while critics didn’t like it, fans who watched were more into it, as is underlined by its pretty strong numbers on more fan-driven voting sites.
Duchovny Freaking Kills It
As nearly every review of Aquarius pointed out, the show’s highlight is David Duchovny’s central character, Detective Sam Hodiak. Where the show’s narrative may have suffered initially from being pulled in too many directions, Duchovny’s performance has always thrived on it. Hodiak a toughened World War II veteran working in Los Angeles during the Summer of Love. He’s a man who’s got an uncanny ability to navigate the town, but who is still subject to some old world backwards thinking. Watching Duchovny rail against Vietnam War protestors is always fascinating as a small symbol of how far we’ve progressed as a nation.
Duchovny’s demeanor, that wry intellectualism he’s brought to every role since Fox Moulder, is perfectly suited for Sam Hodiak, a man who spends as much time waxing about the good old days as he does roughing up suspects. Duchovny’s natural cynicism is a perfect complement to Hodiak’s lumbering brutality, and the mixture of those two opposing elements raging within the same character makes Duchovny the most fun to watch he’s been since The X-Files went off the air.
The first few episodes of the show may be concerned with showcasing Duchovny’s tough guy, the season’s later episodes explore the psyche behind the seemingly straight-laced detective. As indieWIRE said, “Once you get past the bad boy exterior, Hodiak proves himself one of the better leading lads on television.
The Floating Summer Serial
When it premiered last May, the pilot drew critiques for not being focused enough. The pilot tried to introduce a few too many characters and didn’t quite get the story going like television viewers and critics had hoped. However, viewed in its streaming capacity, the larger structure and narrative aim of the show become clearer.
The thing to realize about Aquarius is that it’s a throwback to the 1960s, beyond the costumes and the set dressing. Aquarius harkens back to some of the classic films of the 1960s in terms of its floating narrative structure. Like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Easy Rider, or The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Aquarius is less about a cohesive story — it’s definitely not historical fact — than it is about the series of events that shape the characters at the core of the narrative. In other words, in this show, story takes a backseat to character development, and in Aquarius, the character development is top notch.
It’s Also Getting Better
As often as a show like Arrested Development comes along and sweeps audiences off their feet with a great first season, there are a dozen shows that need some time to mature into something really worthwhile. If the initial reviews of season 2 are any indication, Aquarius is certainly finding its footing as the show creeps closer to some of the darkest days in American history.