The most notable thing about NBC’s new dark crime thriller Aquarius is how it’s being distributed. The series’ first episode debuted Thursday, May 28, but its entire first season is now streaming on the network’s website. New episodes will unspool on the network every Thursday at 9 pm Eastern, but for those who get really into the series, the whole thing will be right there waiting.
It’s part of the network’s attempt to figure out what its own future looks like by experimenting with a combination of the regular television model and something more like what Netflix or Amazon does. And the show’s content — which involves cops in late 1960s Los Angeles and the serial killer Charles Manson — is darker than your typical network fare, more like a cable show.
Aquarius, then, tries to occupy broadcast, cable, and streaming — all three regions of the current television landscape. That it’s an uneasy fit in any one of these regions and that it sometimes feels like two shows clumsily stitched together should probably come as no surprise.
The two shows within Aquarius
A good portion of Aquarius, of which I’ve seen the entire season, is a ’60s-set cop show, complete with cases of the week and the characters facing off with the important social issues of the day. At the center of that show is Sam Hodiak, played by David Duchovny, who seems like a rough spin on Dragnet‘s ultra-square Joe Friday, if Joe Friday were slightly more sympathetic to hippies.
The Miranda ruling is new, and Hodiak can never remember to read suspects their rights. He’s occasionally, casually racist. And he believes in good old-fashioned America. But he’s also coming to realize not everything he holds dear is as infallible as he might want it to be.
In some ways, Hodiak is meant to exemplify some of the wider societal shifts of his era, when the counterculture’s dissatisfaction with the status quo began filtering up to the mainstream. Hodiak’s son goes AWOL from Vietnam, and the season’s most satisfying storyline involves how the character (a World War II veteran) slowly reconciles himself with why his son left the war.
As cop shows go, this isn’t radically amazing stuff, but it can be quite a bit of fun`