In the US: Sundays, 10/9c, CBS
Sometimes, pedigree just isn’t enough. Take Battle Creek. It’s written by David Shore (creator of House) and Vince Gilligan (creator of Breaking Bad); its first episode is directed by Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, X-Men, X-Men: Days of Future Past). It has ‘winner’ written all over it.
But it’s poor. It’s very poor. It’s a buddy-buddy cop dramedy set in the little town of Battle Creek, Michigan. What kind of buddy-buddy, you might wonder? Is one neat, one tidy? Does one play by the book and is the other a Maverick? One black, one white? Male, female? Gay, straight? Old, young? Blue collar, white collar?
No, surprisingly, Shore and Gilligan have gone for “rich, talented and handsome” versus “poor, incompetent and ugly”.
Dean Winters (best known as Liz Lemon’s bad ex-boyfriend in 30 Rock) stars as a Battle Creek police detective who has had to try to solve small town crimes on a small town budget. No wires, so baby monitors will have to do; tasers that don’t work; and so on - you get the picture. As a result, he has to cut a few corners here and there.
Of course, it’s easy to blame a low clear up rate, your suspect ethics and all your problems on your tools if you’re a bad workman… or your tools really do suck. But then Josh Duhamel (Las Vegas) arrives in town. A high-achieving FBI special agent, he has all the skills, resources and looks Winters doesn’t. Will Winters be able to cope, dwelling in the shadow of this golden boy? Or will he - like Duhamel’s previous work colleagues - try to get him shunted to some other god-foresaken outpost somewhere, as soon as it’s humanly possible?
That’s really all the show is built around and there’s not much to like about it. The two halves of the first episode show the problem quite well: the first half, while not especially well written, actually has the comic potential, with the fun pairing of Winters and co-worker Kal Penn (House) doing well milking their failed tech problems for all they’re worth. Then Duhamel turns up and the comedy becomes all about how Winters can’t do something, but Duhamel can because he has a forensics lab, etc. Time after time, whatever Winters wants to do, Duhamel simply does it. There’s no challenge.
There’s also no chemistry. Duhamel is the square cut Platonic ideal of an FBI agent, but little more, and the two have the easy going relationship and interactions most people have with alabaster. It’s not Duhamel’s fault so much as the fault of the set-up, which doesn’t lend itself to normal human interactions. And while there’s the potential for drama rather than comedy, the show doesn’t seem inclined to have Duhamel lording it over Winters rather than simply being oblivious to the effect he has on others.
On top of the fact the crime the couple investigate in the first episode isn’t that interesting, thrilling or complicated, and the supporting cast (bar Penn) aren’t worth watching either, you have a show that merely exists to fill up a Sunday evening schedule and add to CBS’s annual crime show quota.