“He is a total dick,” Rainn Wilson said of his lead character in Fox’s new series Backstrom, in response to some TV critics’ apparent beliefs that there was nothing wrong with irascible Det. Lt. Everett Backstrom that couldn’t be fixed with a fluid ounce of weed killer.
“I probably would have shot him,” co-star Dennis Haysbert said of his character and Backstrom, explaining this was not practical because his character, Sgt. John Almond is a pastor as well as a detective. In the series, Backstrom has been exiled to the Portland PD’s Traffic Division for five years owing to see-previous-paragraph — but is now back heading the Special Crimes Unit and investigating the city’s most serious and sensitive cases.
On the bright side, Backstrom is very good at his job, series creator/showrunner Hart Hanson told TV critics attending Winter TV Press Tour 2015 this morning, adding that’s an improvement over the character portrayed in the Swedish mystery novel series on which the show is based. In the book series, Backstrom “has absolutely no redeeming value – not even a very good detective; he just takes credit for what other people do – much like a showrunner,” Hanson said.
He hopes viewers will stick around long enough to realize all the racist, sexist, homophobic venom spewing from Wilson-as-Backstrom, “does not come from a bad human place – it comes from a bad place in a human being.”
“Backstrom would love to be wrong about the way he sees the world and every time he gets it right, he’s a little bit shattered by it,” Hanson explained.
Haysbert meanwhile, thinks viewers, like his character, will come to like Backstrom once they realize the guy is using venom as a defense against not being liked, and has a sort of life-PTSD. “People are going to have to embrace who they are in order to watch this,” he said.
But, of course, not all viewers are pastors nor are most TV critics, and, as such, may not be able to appreciate the depths of Backstrom’s inner victimhood. Or, their TV playlists may already be full up on Brilliant Dick Solving Mysteries shows. One such critic began a question for Wilson with:
“I’m an actor and starring in a new show on Fox” and, after describing Backstrom the man, concluded with “How long before it becomes tedious that I have to keep doing that?”
“She is good,” Hanson said, in re TV critic, to Wilson.
Wilson wasn’t buying it.
“I’m a television critic from Dayton, Ohio,” Wilson shot back – Dayton being the worst place Wilson could think of off the top of his head at 10:45 on a Saturday morning — adding something snarky about covering local TV garden shows and chess matches and “getting paid to fly to Pasadena each year,” before concluding with “I don’t understand the question.”
“I’m asking about the device,” the TV critic sighed.
“I love the device that Hart has created,” Wilson said. That device: a “corrosively dark world view” of the “grotesque underbelly of human condition” in which, Wilson said, his character not only gets into the heads of the criminal underbelly, but into their “hearts,” “souls” and “tissue.” Backstrom, Wilson said, is endowed with “a super power that is emotional and kind of spiritual,” adding it’s an actor’s dream come true, with “lots of juicy, gooey, human stuff to play around with.”
Warming to his theme, Wilson later added, “I would much rather hang out with that person, than a slick, procedural detective who’s got all the answers and effortlessly speak in quips as the CSI team looks at every microfiber,” and the crime “resolves itself every week.” It was an obvious CBS ding — CBS being the network that ordered the pilot in summer of ’12, but passed on the series because, Fox Television Group co-chairs/CEO’s Dana Walden and Gary Newman said earlier Saturday, CBS could not get an ownership stake in the show.
“I was shocked,” Hanson said of that CBS non-pickup. “There were people in this room saying, ‘Don’t worry, they’re going to announce it in five minutes’.” He was even more shocked when Walden and Newman, who were then running 20th Century Fox TV (they added oversight of Fox broadcast network last summer) said they were going to place Backstrom somewhere else — and did. Hanson said in his experience, studio execs always promise to place elsewhere one of their pilots that do not get a pickup.
One year ago this month, after a two-and-and-a-half-year journey at different networks with different writers, Fox network announced the drama adaptation of Leif G.W. Persson’s best-selling Backstrom series of books finally headed to the screen with a 13-episode order. Fox first developed the project during the 2011-12 season, which had been ordered by CBS the previous season, from Bones creator/EP Hanson.