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'Aquarius' review: NBC's David Duchovny series not a promising sign

David Duchovny as Sam Hodiak in a scene

David Duchovny as Sam Hodiak in a scene from the episode, "Home is Where You're Happy," from the new NBC television series, "Aquarius." Duchovny plays a Los Angeles police detective working a case involving Charles Manson. Credit: AP, NBC / Vivian Zink

THE SERIES "Aquarius"

WHEN|WHERE Premieres Thursday at 9 p.m. on NBC/4; All 13 episodes begin streaming Thursday on

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Los Angeles, 1967, and Charles Manson (Gethin Anthony, "Game of Thrones") has begun to assemble the group of young women who in time will be known as his "Family." One of them, Emma Karn (Emma Dumont), daughter of a prominent GOP attorney, has gone missing. Her mother, Grace (Michaela McManus), calls an old friend to help locate her: Sam Hodiak (David Duchovny). A decorated World War II vet, this play-by-his-own-rules LAPD detective is out of step with the rebellious younger generation, and so conscripts a couple of 'em -- fellow cops Brian Shafe (Grey Damon) and Charmain Tully (Claire Holt) -- to infiltrate the cult. In addition to the telecast, NBC is releasing the entire series, with commercials, Thursday on

MY SAY Right this minute or next week? Today or tomorrow? Now or never? We, as charter members of TV's pick-and-choose generation, can watch what we want, when we want, and pretty much demand that we do. (That's why "on demand" is called "on demand.") This alone absolutely makes "Aquarius" the gaudiest -- or trendiest -- idea to come out of one of the major broadcast networks this year: Skip work! Watch immediately! (Then tell your friends how crazy Charlie Manson really becomes by the 13th episode, just as they are settling in for the regular broadcast premiere Thursday night.)

But -- please -- don't skip work and certainly don't be tempted by the need-to-know-now impulse that besets so many Netflix (and Amazon Prime) subscribers when the latest newcomer arrives on those services. "Aquarius" may be a compelling network departure (or experiment), but not necessarily a compelling show: Indeed, with feet of clay, "Aquarius" plods relentlessly toward a climax everyone already knows, while making just enough fictional detours to make the journey truly exasperating.

How much of this is based on "fact" and how much is based on baloney? Never explained, but there appears to be enough of the latter to make a generous sandwich. Certainly no LAPD detective named Sam Hodiak tried to infiltrate the Manson Family with a Mod Squad of highly telegenic fellow detectives who knew how to crack "the hippie code." That's the fiction part, which would be fine, or tolerable (or less Aaron Spelling-ish) if it added something to the "story" part, or the "character development" one. My search for both lasted four episodes (NBC sent out 13 episodes) and that was more than enough plodding for one day.


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