'Backstrom' Series Premiere Recap: Does it Sink or Sail?
'Backstrom' Series Premiere Recap: Does it Sink or Sail?
Catherine Cabanela
Catherine Cabanela
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV
Backstrom, featuring the petulant and slovenly yet brilliant (?) criminologist of the same name, is the stutter-gestated product of the two balls-to-the-wall creative minds of co-executive producers Hart Hansen (Bones) and Sweden's forensic profiler and novelist, Lief GW Persson, who is also the creator of the Backstrom universe. With the experience and credentials these two bring to the party, the result has the potential to be nothing short of masterful. The question is, will it be a masterpiece for the masses, or just for those possessed of a liberal, mature-com-juvenile, plebeian sense of humor that revels at the prospect of crude humor and the absurdity inherent in tongue-in-cheek satirized bigotry. It may not be for the genteel masses, but there is a rather large constituency who will Eat. It. Up.

The key for FOX will be in finding and promoting to this particular species like its life depends upon in. Which it does. That being said, Backstrom has the makings of a truly guilty pleasure, so all hope is not lost for the teetotaler crowd. I'm just sayin'.

5 Reasons You're Going to Love Backstrom >>>

Detective Lieutenant Everett Backstrom is Spawned 

Detective Lieutenant Everett Backstrom is an absurdly offensive and unkempt criminologist lacking in the political comportment that would allow him to pucker up to the political asses of his superiors and his constituency. He is a cunning opportunist who enjoys being seen as a real policeman. He is complex, multi-layered, and cares about one thing only. That one thing keeps him alive in a world teeming with the nastiness of the everyone in everyone.

Prone to bilious outbursts of bigotry, misogyny and misanthropy, Backstrom uses his lack of a filter as a cleaver to cut through the crap to the slim truth that can provide meaning to his quest ...  or at least to the next important piece of the puzzle. His offensiveness effectively disarms the object of his scorn belying whatever secret they are trying to conceal. Is this abrasive personality enough to carry a show for three seasons? For two? Well, there are several hooks securely embedded in this farce (If I dare call it that) and they all have to do with the mystery that is Backstrom himself. We will discuss this more later.

I'm an Underpaid Hindu Physician ... 

To set the stage, we open with pasty shirtless Backstrom in the examining room of Dr. Deb Chaman portrayed by Rizwan Manji (The Wolf of Wall Street) who is the police department's physician and reminds me of Jon Stewart's correspondent, Aasif Mandvi. Deb holds the power to either propel or stagnate Backstrom's law enforcement career. We learn several things in this scene. First, Backstrom's is a hot mess health-wise, his physical decline rivaled only by his prospects within the department if he doesn't get a green light from Dr. Deb. Second, Backstrom is fresh off a stint in the traffic division. The Backstrom of Persson's novel was once remanded to the police lost and found, so this seems like a step down even from there. Third, Backstrom earned his traffic demotion by showing his ass at a press conference... figuratively, of course. 

Newly minted Police Chief Anna Cervantes (with whom Backstrom insinuates he's been intimate) wants Backstrom back in the field in suit coat, tie and detective's badge. Deb warns Backstrom he better not die if he gives him the green light, Backstrom tries to bribe him. Instead, Deb gives him a prescription to find one friend, but not before Backstrom first utters his signature prelude which indicates he's exploring what it would be like to inhabit the skin of the other person: "I'm an underpaid Hindu physician... "

I'm a Rich White Senator's Pretty Boy Son with Manhood Issues

The suicide victim is bridge-jumper 19-year-old Tobias Perceval III, a senator's son with a snout full of cocaine. In this scene, we meet Det. Sgt. John Almond, portrayed by Dennis Haysbert (The Unit, Allstate Insurance). Every time he pauses I expect him to spout something about Allstate Insurance and I'm hoping my brain can let go of that reference or Haysbert adjusts his delivery.

Then we meet diminutive and adorable, perfectly manicured Det. Nicole Gravely portrayed by Genevieve Angelson (House of Lies) who trades barbs with Backstrom as they make preliminary observations. Moments later we see Buddha-quoting profiler, the tall, dark and notably handsome Sgt. Peter Niedermayer (Kristoffer Polaha, Life Unexpected) who interprets everything Backstrom says as gold. He comes off as bright, introspective, and a little ingratiating, but pretty hot. 

Throughout, Backstrom makes comments that it's difficult to determine if they are tongue-in-cheek or out of malice. They don't have enough bite to be malicious, but they must be taken with a grain of salt. Before the team takes off for lunch, Niedermayer confirms that it's definitely a homicide. 

At the morgue, Backstrom takes one look at the bereaved senator and intuits that the limp-dicked father is a philanderer whose dead son had been in love for the first time. Backstrom makes these leaps and shrewdly observes how their declarations land on the listener. It's the listener's response that confirms the intuition. 

Absolutely Not Means I'm Absolutely Lying

This concept comes up several times throughout the episode and I wonder if it's going to become part of his signature. Then again, perhaps it's a blatant signal to we dimmer bulbs that the speaker is definitely lying? It's too soon to tell.

Gravely and Backstrom search the dead student's dorm room and find a stash of drugs and cash, but no laptop. They soon learn from technology whiz and forensic accountant, Nadia Paquet, that the boy had recently withdrawn over $50,000 from his bank account. It sounds like our little jumper is not a very good little business man. As the group discusses what they've found and two of the team accuse Backstrom of being prejudiced against an African American man whom he called a raisin in a bowl of buttered popcorn, Niedermayer reveals something about his own relationship with Backstrom through this observation: "I believe Backstrom lives intensely in the moment on a higher plane of existence from which he is able to hear the universe speak... " Message, received, Backstrom fairies. Backstrom really is more than meets the squeamish eye. 

Meet the Cast of Backstrom > > >

It's Always Valentine Day At Home for Everett Backstrom

We then meet Backstrom's young gay male roommate, Gregory Valentine, who is also his connection to the underworld, his fence and the son of a prostitute. Later Dr. Deb says he notices a resemblance between Backstrom and Valentine that has me wondering if Valentine could be Backstrom's son, but don't know yet if the mother prostitute was one of Backstrom's pseudo girlfriend. Time will tell! I will tell you this though, there are some great scenes between Valentine and Backstrom coming up in the next three episodes as the back stories for both are fleshed out. Stay tuned.

Gravely and Backstrom confront Visser. He ends up getting riled up and Gravely -- quick like a rattler -- breaks the guys finger. Later she's facing abuse charges as a result and Backstrom suggests she hit him to show that she had justifiable cause for defending her commander. She's incensed, of course, but hauls off and smacks the crap out of him in the end when he least expects it. I think this earns herself some Kudos from the real policeman that is Everett Backstrom. 

An Ex With Questionable Motives 

Moto and Backstrom find the laptop and learn that the victim's ex is the key to finding the killer, even though she herself doesn't realize it. Once again, Backstrom uses his Jedi mind trick of putting on her skin and nails her own motivations right on the head. This leads to all kinds of openings which assist in finally putting the pieces together. It was Visser all along.

Beer and Raw Eggs; Not Just For Breakfast Anymore

Valentine reveals that the new campus heroine supplier is Visser. Gravely and Backstrom go visit the scumbag at his bar where Backstrom guzzles two tall beers mixed with raw egg and I almost puke watching the whole thing. All I can think is, he's gonna hurl! Run for cover, he's gonna hurl! This is how much of a disaster this guy is. ... to be greedily guzzling two tall beers in the middle of the day while on duty. #HurtBag But why doesn't Gravely say something about the on-duty bad behavior? In Persson's novels the cops are constantly drinking both on the job and off, covertly and out on the open, but I'm pretty sure that's not kosher in the US. So ... what's that about?

By the time the two leave the bar -- without paying, I might add -- Visser's gotten belligerent, Gravely's opened a case of whup-ass on the sleaze bag, breaking his finger, and Backstrom is duly impressed with his partner. 

Internal Affairs or External Affairs for the Minx

We learn along the way that Gravely must have slept with a John when she was undercover as a prostitute, and that's why she must have gotten saddled with Backstrom. Well, now she's potentially in trouble again, this time for kicking Visser's ass. Backstrom demurs to attest that she was defending him, but he suggests she bruise him for proof that she responded with appropriate force. She's offended at first, but when we least expect it -- pow -- she pops him one and it's glorious! Suck on that, Backstrom.

During the same scene we learn that "Allstate Almond" has the highest conviction rate in the history of the unit, that liaison Niedermayer is better at forensics than the forensics department itself is, and that Moto is highly motivated and ambitious, and the characters begin to flesh out.

Black Balls Are No Handicap

From the laptop confiscated from Toby's jealous bi-girlfriend, Nadia locates an email from Archie, a classmate who threatened Toby after he and his friends hazed Archie and smeared black shoe polish on his testicles. Almond and Backstrom's reaction when they hear about this is priceless and perfectly delivered, but the best line of this scene is delivered in private by Almond to the kid: "I got black balls, son. Ain't no kind of handicap."

Cassandra the (Innocent?) Black Stripper Toby Was Banging

Archie gives up Cassandra Lastrange (Tiffany Hines, Bones), the stripper Toby was involved with. She had debts -- $50,000 worth -- that Toby paid off for her, hoping she'd leave the life of stripping. That didn't work out to well for him, did it? Does she think she can go to the funeral if she gets some nice clothes? Of course she does. Gah! Till Backstrom sets her straight and we all roll our eyes... and giggle. 

Backstrom Sees the Everyone in Everyone

In a brief encounter between Backstrom and Niedermeyer, we learn that Everett's dad was a venerated officer who hated and pistol whipped his young son. So now the hate for all humanity is beginning to make some sense. Well, the behavior toward humanity is making sense, but is it the people he actually hates? It doesn't seem that he has any feeling for other people at all. Indifference? Maybe. Cinacism? Definitely. But it's clear what he loathes is him own humanity; the monster inside himself. Why is that?

Everyone in everyone.jpgDespite the plate full of heart attack he had for breakfast, the constant cigar smoking, and the voluminous supply of alcohol, Backstrom continues to function rather well. I'm wondering what kind of cop he could be without the self-medication and if that will be addressed in the future. In the episode "Bella" we learn about a cold case at the bullseye of Backstrom's ninth circle of hell that's responsible for his continual malaise and self-loathing. Both the case and how it affects Backstrom are startlingly frightening. 

Backstrom treats Gravely with tolerant indifference, Gravely treats Backstrom like a shifty teenage girl she's been saddled with on the proviso that if she can get though the year without the teen getting pregnant there will be a nice promotion in it for her. I don't know where I'm getting all this, but that's how it's landing on me, so take it for what it's worth, people. 

Kick Ass Chick Number Two

Not to be overlooked is the chess game between Nadia and Backstrom back at his place -- which is what? What does he live in? I still can't figure that out. Is it a boat? A storage locker? A basement of some kind? Anyway, Nadia's Corsican Folk Remedy comes completely out of nowhere and is fantastic. Way to go, Nadia! In Persson's books, the men are (mostly) pigs toward women, but the women are strong and confident. This is how Backstrom is conveying that strength as the tale moves from print to television and it works quite well. 

During this scene Backstrom asks Nadia to be his medicinal friend, prohibiting them from having sex, which the detective calls "The Full Backstrom Package."

Cassandra's Brother Outs Visser

During the interrogation of Cassandra's brother, Backstrom works out the whole case. It's like magic. Brother watches Toby confront Visser, pull a gun, and get himself hung. Moto and Backstrom go to sack Visser and end up in the alleyway where there is a confusing scuffle and a gun goes off. I had to watch this scene four times to figure out what really happened, and I'm still not sure. I think Visser's gun went off and shot Backstrom in the arm. When Visser refuses to step down, Backstrom points his gun, which goes off, somewhat surprising Backstrom and killing the hell out of Visser who then falls into the river. Realizing he's shot an unarmed man, Backstrom freaks out and kicks Visser's gun into the river as well. Moto catches him at it, but attributes Backstrom's behavior to shock. We're all left wondering if Backstrom can handle a gun, and why he so easily lost his cool. Maybe he has the brains and the psychic sensitivity, but he's just not as manly of a man as he makes out to be? Other evidence would suggest this. Regardless, something truly dark is haunting this detective. 

Case Closed, But Not Quite

Not everything falls into place and this bothers Backstrom. Where is the gun Toby brought to the meeting with Visser? And why was Visser not afraid of Toby's drawn gun? Niedermayer scubas to the bottom of the river and finds the gun and realizes it's broken somehow. That's why Visser wasn't afraid. Why did Visser know this? Backstrom then corners Cassandra and catches her in her own web of lies. Visser gave the broken gun to Cassandra who gave it to Toby. She was in on it with Visser the whole time. And apparently this wasn't the first time they'd run this kind of scam on a wealthy student. Tiffany Hines, by the way, was excellent as the heart-broken hooker turned immediately remorseless. 

Backstrom's Vulnerabilities Are His Saving Grace

Quite telling are two of Backstrom's final lines to Cassandra. The first is about a corrupt person not being able to have faith in the innocence of pure love/grace or someone who offers it. It's clear Backstrom is really talking about himself there. The second is the line: "I stood on the verge of an extraordinary life and I chose the wrong path like everybody always does." Wow, the possibilities of what we'll learn of Backstrom's past and the origin of his anathema, his misanthropy, his self-loathing ... are endless. 

Backstrom airs Thursdays, at 9pm on FOX. 

(Images courtesy of FOX)