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'Backstrom' series premiere recap: Rainn Wilson rides again

Season 1 | Episode 1 | “Dragon Slayer” | Aired Jan 22, 2015

There are plenty of gripping ways to open a brand-new police procedural. A wide shot of Rainn Wilson’s naked chest probably isn’t the first one people think of—but then again, Wilson himself probably isn’t the first actor people think of when they hear “misanthropic, down-on-his-luck detective,” either.

Wilson, who played Office oddball Dwight Schrute for nine seasons, is back on TV as Backstrom‘s titular antisocial cop. We first meet him in his doctor’s office (hence the lack of shirt), where he’s having a physical to determine if, after five years of grueling traffic duty, he’ll be allowed back in the big leagues: Portland’s Special Cases Unit.

His doc, a Hindu man named Deb (Rizwan Manji) tells Backstrom that before he can officially rejoin the force, he’ll have to quit smoking and drinking—and he’ll have to make a friend. The show wants to set our antihero up as an endearing racist, so Backstrom makes some witty remark about reincarnation and cows before leaving the office.

Outside it is raining, because this show is set in Portland, remember? (Don’t worry, there will be a super-obvious reference to coffee overenthusiasm later on.) Backstrom meets up with Moto (Page Kennedy), another cop with the SCU. Moto fills him in on their latest case: the suicide of Toby Percival III, a senator’s son.

They stroll to the bridge from which the body is hanging, and who should meet them but Dennis Haysbert (who is, unfortunately, not shilling Allstate in this show)? No, Haysbert plays Detective Sgt. Almond, their commanding officer. Also on the scene is forensics expert Niedermayer (Kristoffer Polaha) and Backstrom’s partner, Gravely (Genevieve Angelson).

Everybody gathers round the body, which they’ve hoisted onto a gurney. Through his unmatched powers of perception, Backstrom deduces that Toby didn’t kill himself but was, in fact, murdered. And indeed, Niedermayer finds heroin in the body’s mouth—jammed in so hard that it scratched his cornea and bloodied his gums.

This delights Backstrom, because it means they have a homicide on their hands, and that means the bureau will pay for lunch. He then begins the hunt for suspects, and immediately points out “that black African-American there,” a campus police officer who’s guarding the scene. Just 10 minutes in, and Backstrom‘s already fulfilled its quota of edgy racism for the week. Everybody drink.

Backstrom and Gravely head to Toby’s college dorm room, and on the way they have a nice chat comparing their most recent failings. Gravely, it turns out, is also on the outs with the department. While undercover as a prostitute, she ended up actually having sex with a bunch of johns, which is apparently a practice the police department frowns upon. Hey, nobody’s perfect!

In Toby’s room, Backstrom quickly finds a backpack stowed up the chimney (seriously, this kid’s dorm room has a chimney, and a fireplace to go with it). Inside the bag are an envelope labeled “Cass” containing $1,000 and a pound of heroin. My first thought was that Toby was kind of illiterate and couldn’t spell the word “cash,” but Backstrom is quick enough to point out that their victim meant to give this money to a woman named Cass, probably a girlfriend.

A quick conference with the rest of the squad reveals that the university’s heroin supply had recently dried up after the entire Cambodian kitchen staff were arrested. The new supplier in town is a guy named Visser (Nic Bishop), who owns a strip club. Of course, for the sake of the case, Backstrom must head to this suspect’s place of business to continue the investigation.

Visser proves to be exactly as scummy as one might expect a strip-club owner/heroin dealer/murder suspect to be. He also serves Backstrom a truly disgusting concoction composed of a pint of beer, a shot of liquor, and a raw egg. Backstrom, on orders from his doctor to eat healthier, downs two. (Props to Rainn Wilson.) The detectives don’t get much else from Visser—though Gravely does dislocate his finger for a rude comment, which is pretty badass.

The next day, the department’s civilian tech expert Nadia (Beatrice Rosen) gives them a lead: a boy on Toby’s rugby team accused the senator’s son of hazing and wrote him a threatening email. Rugby boy works at a fancy beanery (and for those of you following along at home, you may now scratch “coffee reference” off your Portland bingo cards). He finally gives Backstrom and Gravely the tip they were looking for: Toby was indeed dating a girl named Cass … who works as a stripper at Visser’s seedy club. The plot thickens!

Back at the club, Cass (Tiffany Hines) is in full-on weeping-widow mode. She explains that she and Toby were in love and he was dealing for Visser to help pay off her debts. It’s only on the ride back to the station that Backstrom and Gravely get word from Nadia that Cass is, in fact, the sister of the “black African-American” security guard Backstrom suspected earlier in the episode.

See kids, it’s not racist if it turns out you were right! This development gives Backstrom the opportunity he’s been waiting for—to share his life’s philosophy with viewers: “I don’t see the worst in everyone, I see the everyone in everyone.” Is that Gandhi?

Once he’s home, Backstrom gets a call that SCU has apprehended the campus policeman Charles (Jarod Joseph). Charles explains that Toby did indeed meet Visser the night he was killed. Backstrom puts on his thinking cap and pieces the story together: Visser killed Toby because Toby brought a gun to their meeting.

That’s all the proof the squad needs, and they rush to the club to arrest Visser. Backstrom catches him running out the back door and onto a pier (and proceeds to shoot himself in the arm in the process. No biggie, it’s only a flesh wound). Visser loses his gun in their tussle, but when he moves to pick it up, Backstrom shoots him and the body falls into the marina. Not wanting to be suspected of killing an unarmed man, Backstrom tosses Visser’s gun in after him. And with that, Backstrom enters true antihero territory.

The next day, we find Niedermayer scuba diving under the bridge where Toby died, looking for Toby’s gun—yes, two guns fall into two separate bodies of water this episode. He finds it, and Backstrom confirms that the gun was tampered with so it couldn’t fire.

But where would a nice boy like Toby get a gun? From his stripper girlfriend, of course! Backstrom confronts Cass, and deduces the truth: she and Visser were conning Toby all along. Once they took all his money, they assumed Toby would leave Cass, but turns out he actually loved her enough to try to kill Visser instead. Gravely slaps some handcuffs on Cass and takes her away.

The end of the episode finds Backstrom back in Dr. Deb’s office for his weekly physical. He’s given provisional reprieve to return to the force full-time. In return for his physician’s good intentions, Backstrom again insults his religion and offers one last piece of advice: “We’ve only got one life, and it’s meaningless.” Is this guy a bucket of laughs or what?

Backstrom airs Thursdays at 9/C on Fox.

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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