I’ll be keeping an eye on this character to see where he goes — and there’ll be more on this down the line — but Fox’s offbeat police drama “Backstrom,” premiering Thursday, has added a pastor to the lineup.
Based on the books by Swedish author Leif G.W. Persson, and developed for American TV (first CBS, then Fox) by Hart Hanson, executive producer of Fox’s “Bones” (and a self-declared “lapsed Catholic”), “Backstrom” stars Rainn Wilson (“The Office”) as a slovenly, offensive, misanthropic, miserable and yet piercingly brilliant detective (think “House,” without the stethescope, or “Sherlock,” without Benedict Cumberbatch).
On Saturday, Jan. 17, the cast and Hanson appeared before assembled TV press at the winter edition of the biannual Television Critics Association Press Tour in Pasadena, California.
“In the books,” said Hanson, “‘Backstrom’ has absolutely no redeeming values. He’s not even a very good detective. So, he just takes credit for what other people do, much like a showrunner.”
That got a laugh.
“He’s just awful,” Hanson continued. “He’s just awful. The change we made for network TV was to make him very good at his job and to make him empathetic with — take all those bad qualities that he has from the book and turn them into a tool for solving crimes.”
“And to make him not Swedish,” added Wilson.
Asked how what he liked about Backstrom, Wilson said, “I can relate to someone whose life is falling apart, and they’re doing their best to get by using humor to survive. We have all experienced that in small doses, or we know people who live that way.
“Backstrom really lives wears his heart on his sleeve, and his life is unraveling. Watching a brilliant detective at work while things are just not working for him anymore and just falling apart, is really interesting.
“I would rather hang out with that person than a slick procedural detective who’s got all the answers and effortlessly speaks in these quips as their CSI team looks at every microfiber, and everything resolves perfectly every single week.
“It’s human. It’s frail, and it’s interesting.”
Among Backstrom’s colleagues are the young but bright Detective Nicole Gravely (Genevieve Angelson), Special Crimes Unit Officer Frank Moto (Page Kennedy), Forensics Liaison Detective Peter Niedermayer (Kristoffer Polaha), foreign-born civilian Nadia Paquet (Beatrice Rosen), and Gregory Valentine (Thomas Dekker), Backstrom’s platonic gay roommate and “underworld connection.”
Also, Dennis Haysbert (“24,” “The Unit”) co-stars as Detective John Almond, a long-married and deeply religious man who works as a pastor on the weekends — a character, along with Gravely, who was not in the books.
Said Haysbert, “If you’re working with a person like this, and you have to work with them, and all of a sudden, you become friends, it’s because you find out what his issues are, and you find out, ‘OK, this guy is not as bad, and what he’s doing is a kind of a defense against not being liked.’ Maybe he doesn’t want to be liked, because then he’d have to tell everyone, ‘OK, I’m human.’
“Specifically, for Almond, if Almond wasn’t a pastor and a detective, I probably would have shot him, OK? But, as a pastor, and looking at him and then understanding eventually and slowly what his issues are, I learn to first tolerate, and then I say, ‘You know what? We can be good cop/’God cop.’
“And then it starts to work. So, first of all, we have to find out what our working balance is. Then, I have to find out what his issues are, what happens to him, what happened to him in his life. Then I’m sympathetic and somehow empathetic to what’s going on with him.”
As for his own background, Haysbert said, “My father was Catholic. My mother’s Baptist. So, I grew up in a very religious household. Indeed, my my family’s history goes back to 1795. The only reason I know this is because they were Catholic, and they’re the only ones that kept records.
“So, I have this religious base. My mother is constantly — she’s 95 years young right now. Every time I speak to her, ‘Are you reading your Bible?’ To which I reply, ‘Yes,’ but … hey, she’s 95.”
There’s more to tell, and I did grab chats with both Haysbert and Hanson, but for right now, I’d like to have you guys take a look and tell me what you think. Can you stomach a character like Backstrom? Do you relate to Almond? Should Hanson come back to the Church?
Well talk again. In the meantime, here’s the trailer …
(In the picture above: Dennis Haysbert (right), Rainn Wilson (center), Hart Hanson (left).