'Backstrom' is House with a badge, minus the brains

Tom Long
The Detroit News

'Backstrom' is "House M.D." with a badge.

Wait a minute. That's an insult to House. "Backstrom," which debuts tonight on Fox, is way lazier and far-fetched than "House," which is saying something, because "House" was pretty far-fetched.

But "Backstrom" isn't just far-fetched; at times it's downright silly. And clumsy. And painfully obvious.

Backstrom (Rainn Wilson, trying) is a Portland, Oregon, police detective. Like House, he's generally misanthropic and insulting to everyone he meets. He drinks too much, smokes cigars, doesn't have any real friends, eats unhealthy food — you get the picture. The lovable unlovable man.

But, of course, he's brilliant at solving murders and such.

Except he's not, really. Beginning with tonight's episode and continuing through the first three episodes, he's more of a bull in a China shop, barking out demands, making arbitrary decisions that miraculously turn out to be true and basically just falling forward.

At least with House — the longtime Fox hit — the audience was assured there was some science and analysis behind the medical cases he cracked, even if no one understood the science. With "Backstrom," the audience is on far more familiar ground. Everyone understands the basics of murder mysteries.

Unfortunately, that makes it much easier to spot dicey ones, and "Backstrom" is dicey indeed. Every time he makes a move, it's got to be part of an intricate puzzle that will be solved. More often, it's just an obnoxious guy staggering off in a direction that turns out to be conveniently right.

As the show begins, Backstrom, who has long been demoted to traffic duty, is being made head of a special crimes unit (which is a bit like House jumping from nurse's aide to chief of surgery). As such, he's given the sort of team TV detectives usually get.

There's the beautiful woman detective (Genevieve Angelson) who questions his methods and personality. There's a good-looking eccentric evidence guy (Kristoffer Polaha), a former mixed martial artist (Page Kennedy), and a steady older partner (Dennis Haysbert, slumming). Inexplicably there's also a beautiful French woman (Beatrice Rosen) who does ... something.

Back on the boat where he lives, Backstrom also has a cute, gay criminal roommate (Thomas Dekker). Like most detectives.

Look, everybody likes a good grump with a heart of gold — "House" ran for eight seasons. But House was a good grump who knew what he was doing. Backstrom just seems like a jerk who gets lucky. No, thanks.





9 tonight