TV review: Aquarius, Sky Atlantic
David Duchovny hunts Charles Manson in retro cop thriller
The crimes of Charles Manson continue to fascinate. He represented the dark side of the 1960s dream, a man who never committed murder himself but drove others to carry out his dark desires: the archetypal hippie death cult. In real life, Manson continues to rant and rave behind bars (his last parole hearing was in 2012). A heady true crime story of sex, drugs, rock'n'roll and murder it's ripe for film and TV.
Aquarius is 'inspired by' these events, rather than an accurate depiction. Set in 1967, David Duchovny plays Sam Hodiak, a cop called in to investigate the disappearance of a friend's daughter. However, in this case, Emma (Emma Dumont) has gone willingly, falling for the charistmatic Manson (Gethin Anthony) and joining The Family. Hodiak recruits Brian Shafe (Grey Damon), an undercover cop working the hippie circuit, adding Charmain Tully (Claire Holt) to the team, as they attempt to infiltrate Manson's commune.
Aquarius aims for Mad Men retro chic but is too crisp and clean to feel truly authentic, although there's a killer soundtrack featuring the usual suspects (The Who, Rolling Stones, Jefferson Airplane, etc, etc). On the back of this opening episode, Aquarius is a bit too shiny and shallow – which should come as no surprise when you consider showrunner John McNamara was responsible for Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Jericho and the US remake of Prime Suspect.
Duchovny is a great lead, looking suitably stiff and uncomfortable at 60s happenings, and his easy rapport with Damon should play out as a solid mismatched buddy cop relationship so beloved by TV execs. However, Anthony hasn't yet exhibited the menace needed to bring the infamous cult leader to life. Aquarius can only get darker and darker as we delve deeper into Manson's world. It's intriguing to wonder what Rob Zombie and Bret Easton Ellis might have done with the material on their competing Manson-themed TV show at Fox if NBC's Aquarius hadn't stolen their thunder and kyboshed the project.
Aquarius premieres on Sky Atlantic, Tue 11 Aug, 9pm.