Using the exploits of Charles Manson and his ragtag ‘family’ of hippie followers as a jumping off point to explore the Summer of Love counterculture, Aquarius is undeniably stylish with a vast array of sharp suits, slick cars and an exhilarating rock n roll soundtrack. Yet, for all its groovy trappings, there’s nothing that can be done to brighten up this dull, by-the-numbers period procedural.
David Duchovny plays Sam Hodiak, a blandly hardboiled LAPD cop, asked by a former flame (Michaela McManus) to help find her missing 16-year-old daughter, Emma (Emma Dumont). As it turns out, the girl has fallen under the spell of wannabe rockstar and mercurial cult leader Charles Manson (Gethin Anthony).
Needing help to crack the case, Hodiak recruits young undercover narcotics officer Brian Shafe (Grey Damon) as his partner, and together they set about uncovering all the shady goings-on that lurk just beneath the surface of the seemingly free-spirited Los Angeles.
An initial focus on this wispy missing-girl plot rapidly expands into a sprawling, cumbersome narrative that is sorely lacking in any sort of focal point. Writer John McNamara’s ambitious attempts to marry historical references with these many plot strands never quite gel, and as a result the show veers awkwardly between tones as it tries to encompass everything from seedy crime drama to psychological horror to buddy cop comedy.
And that’s to the show’s detriment because the scenes featuring Gethin Anthony’s chillingly charismatic Manson are among its very best. Perhaps that’s because, by comparison, the rest of the characters feel woefully underwritten.
While Duchovny’s Hodiak is forming a promising ying-and-yang partnership with Damon’s Shafe, as yet another hardened detective repressing a dark past and strained family relations, he’s barely distinguishable from all the other moody male leads you’ll find in a crime drama. Meanwhile, the rest of the supporting players are a who’s who of procedural types – the uncaring father, the corrupt government official, the seedy boyfriend. It’s just the same old, same old.
It is, of course, still early days for the series, and there’s plenty of potential in the characters’ relationships to keep viewers intrigued for a little while longer yet, but Aquarius needs to start thinking outside the box and settle on the story it wants to tell or it risks becoming lost in a crowded genre where there’s always a more enticing option just around the corner.
Click here to watch the trailer for Aquarius