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‘Aquarius’ review: Season 2 has far-improved start

David Duchovny (Sam Hodiak), left, here with Grey

David Duchovny (Sam Hodiak), left, here with Grey Damon (Brian Shafe), isn't lovable, but he is the best reason to give "Aquarius" another look. Credit: NBC / Ron Batzdorff

WHEN | WHERE 9 p.m. Thursday on NBC/4


WHAT IT’S ABOUT LAPD Det. Sam Hodiak (David Duchovny) has been receiving envelopes with pictures of missing women in 1967. Why? That’s what he wants to know. Meanwhile, Charmain (Claire Holt) and Brian (Grey Damon) continue the undercover operation into Charlie Manson (Gethin Anthony) and his growing family. They also have a new benefactor, Beach Boy founder Dennis Wilson (Andy Favreau). Thursday’s second-season opener is commercial-free.

MY SAY “Aquarius” fans — and there are more than enough of those (you) to ensure Thursday’s return engagement — got an important reveal at the end of the first season.

As Sam was receiving that highly dubious LAPD Medal of Valor, viewers finally learned his full name: Samson Benedictus Hodiak.

With a name like that, you better have a back story, have parents with a puckish sense of humor, and have fists of fury.

 But above all, you have to be cool.

Very cool. Ice cool. Sam Spade cool. So cool the frost forms around you like an impermeable barrier. Nothing can get through that cool, and nothing can get past it, except his words, which are also — as you guessed — cool.

In Thursday’s opener, cool-talking to his on-again, off-again (now on-again) flame Grace (Michaela McManus), Sam explains his typical day: “Usually I’m just driving around listening to Django Reinhardt, and looking to eat someplace off the cuff.” Who drives around L.A. looking for handouts while listening to Django Reinhardt? Well, obviously a guy named Samson Benedictus Hodiak.

He’s also why “Aquarius” is back. Duchovny channels just enough of Mulder from “The X-Files” to establish a character who can carry a whole series. Sam is hardly lovable, and, in fact, essentially hateable. But he is compelling and he is the best reason to give “Aquarius” another look.

Maybe it’s that ambient cool or maybe it just took a season to work out pace, logic and character, but “Aquarius” is a better show. This two-hour opener is also without commercials, which is another gamble by NBC to get more traction for this summer not-quite-franchise. Last year, all 13 episodes were dumped online immediately after the premiere so the network could figure out if viewers binged and what they liked.

What they liked above all else is Samson Benedictus Hodiak, along with his malleable ethics, smooth patter, buck-the-system style and mysterious past. He’s an interesting guy. With a name like that, he’d better be.

BOTTOM LINE A far-improved start to the second season.

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