I was drawn to "Aquarius" for two main reasons: 1. I'm an X-Files fanatic (so the return of David Duchovny was interesting to me); and 2. I just finished watching "Mad Men" and was hungry for another period piece. Sadly, the show failed miserably to deliver in either aspect. I quit watching after six episodes.
For a basic plot summary, "Aquarius" centers on LA cops Sam Hodiak (Duchovny) & Brian Shafe (Grey Damon) in the year 1967. First and foremost on the docket: The disappearance of Hodiak's daughter Emma (Emma Dumont) into the Helter Skelter cult just being set up by Charles Manson (Gethin Anthony). Clashes with civil rights groups, tough/corrupt cops, and gritty crime drama also ensue.
Had this show been exclusively about Charles Manson and the story behind his cult following, I think it might just have been a runaway smash success. The scenes where he is on-screen are palpable with emotion (superbly acted by Anthony), as we as viewers know the kind of sick man he will eventually turn into. I watche dthis show for even longer than I probably should have just to see a bit longer how his angle would play out.
Unfortunately, pretty much every scene that doesn't feature Anthony's Manson is either boring or a complete mess. Despite being set in the 1960s, "Aquarius" never felt like a "period piece" to me. I never was truly transported into that era. It tries to incorporate elements of 60s culture into the flow of the show, but (as previously noted), the only portion that works is the Manson Cult. A big reason for this is that the acting (especially by Duchovny) is so understated, droll, and (dare I say) boring. For a show in which much of the promotional material centered around Duchovny's Kodiak (and he really is the fulcrum for the show's plots), it is truly a disaster to have him be such a shallow, uninspiring presence. I'm not sure if Duchovny just isn't as great of an actor as he once was, or if this just wasn't a role suited for him.
One final observation: It probably isn't all that fair to directly compare "Aquarius" to "Mad Men" (as comparing anything to "Mad Men" is a tall order), but I'm going to do it. The reason I feel justified in doing so? I can't help but think that the network planned this out as sort of an "outlet" for "Mad Men" fans (like myself) grieving the recent end of that show (which was also set in the same time period). Whereas "Mad Men" took great care with the characters and period references right from the beginning, this show tries to just mash everything in without exploring character motives or taking a step back to contemplate.
Thus, "Aquarius" had three avenues for potential: Duchovny, period setting, and Manson angle. As it turned out, Duchovny was terrible, the period setting was not at all convincing, and there wasn't nearly enough "Manson stuff" to sustain interest. For a show that oozed potential from the very first time I saw a trailer for it, "Aquarius" sure crashed and burned quick.
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