'Battle Creek:' Comfortable to a fault

Tom Long
The Detroit News

'Battle Creek' is a prime example of modern day broadcast television — familiar enough to be comfy, yet sporting just the slightest hint of faux edge. It's a teasing, comic procedural built around your basic cop family with a couple of mismatched partners at the center.

None of that's surprising. What is a bit surprising is that the show comes from creators Vince Gilligan ("Breaking Bad") and David Shore ("House"), producers who've pushed the envelope at times. Here they prove that they can be the envelope as well.

As a procedural — each week a crime pops up and is solved by the episode's end — "Battle Creek" fits nicely onto the CBS schedule. That this show leans more on humor than advanced evidence-gathering techniques is a sign of relative hipness for what was once known as the Tiffany network, although the storylines still follow the traditional plodding through red herring suspects, wrong assumptions and sudden revelations.

Welcome to Battle Creek, Michigan (the show is actually shot in California), a small town that's too broke to even buy batteries for its taser guns. The town's senior detective, Russ Agnew (Dean Winters), is moaning about the situation when he and his colleagues find help is on the way in the form of an FBI agent who's been assigned to the region.

That agent would be Milt Chamberlain (Josh Duhamel), an astonishingly erect, handsome fellow who seems to be Superman-perfect. He has a sunny disposition, speaks multiple languages, has connections everywhere and, thanks to the FBI, has nearly unlimited resources.

Agnew, of course, hates the guy while all of his fellow cops fall in love with him. When Milt asks for a partner to show him the ropes, everybody but Russ volunteers. Milt, again of course, chooses Russ.

So there you have the show's basic dynamic – Milt trusts people, Russ distrusts people. Russ badgers witnesses, Milt reasons with them. Russ instinctively tracks down bad guys, Milt waits for the evidence to point the way. Sometimes one's right, sometimes the other, but they always get the bad guy.

The show has a few ongoing teases, the chief one being Russ trying to figure out why Milt was sent to Battle Creek, a seeming demotion from the Detroit office. As the show progresses the mystery of Milt — who is this guy? — grows. So does the schoolboy crush Russ has on the station's office manager (Aubrey Dollar), a situation so typical it's near embarrassing.

There are some good people involved here, most notably the British actress Janet McTeer as the town's police chief. How do you get a two-time Oscar nominee to take a supporting role in a comic cop procedural? Pay her a lot of money, one hopes, because McTeer can't be getting much artistic satisfaction out of this.

Kal Penn ("Harold & Kumar," "House") is also along, as another detective, who of course turns out to be a stoner. And for the many who were sad to see Dewey Crowe die on "Justified" recently, the actor who played him, Damon Herriman, surfaces here as a cop with funny teeth. Again, happy paychecks to all.

CBS obviously thinks it has a hit with "Battle Creek" — instead of sending critics the usual first few episodes to screen they sent the entire season. And they may well be right. This show fits perfectly into the network's mystery/cop-heavy schedule and audiences should be able to blur right through it comfortably. As comfortable blurs go, "Battle Creek" is indeed a success.



'Battle Creek'


10 p.m. Sunday