Rainn Wilson stars the title character of "Backstrom," a snarky...

Rainn Wilson stars the title character of "Backstrom," a snarky detective. Credit: CBS / Sergei Bachlakov

THE SHOW "Backstrom"

WHEN | WHERE Thursday at 9 p.m. on Fox/5

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Everett Backstrom (Rainn Wilson) is a detective with the Portland Police Bureau -- and a mean drunk who consorts with prostitutes, and otherwise hates all other forms of humanity. Fortunately, his colleagues see past his quirks. They include: Det. John Almond (Dennis Haysbert), who is also a pastor in his spare time at a local church; Backstrom's partner, Nicole Gravely (Genevieve Angelson); forensics specialist Sgt. Peter Niedermeyer (Kristoffer Polaha), and nice-guy cop Frank Moto (Page Kennedy). His roomie, Valentine (Thomas Dekker), is long-suffering but patient. The show is based on the Swedish book series by Leif G.W. Persson and produced by longtime "Bones" showrunner Hart Hanson.

MY SAY Rainn Wilson played Dwight Schrute so perfectly for so long that fans lost sight of where one began and the other ended. In fact, they didn't care. All that mattered was that Dwight was Dwight, and stayed Dwight over 187 episodes of "The Office." He did, but careers need second acts, and for Wilson, that arrives Thursday night.

How to breach the disconnect, from Dwight to hardened, cynical, biggish-city cop? The opener tries -- boy, does it try -- with some humor that dresses up a broadly drawn Columbo caricature who's got weight issues, fatal eating habits and a misanthrope's eye for human fallibility. This guy doesn't only eat hard, but drinks hard, and says stuff that is supposed to be willfully politically incorrect, while spouting gnomic pearls that are meant to pass for wisdom.

Yes, he's as unlikable as Dwight, but the otherwise frantic attempt to banish his ghost only manages to bang out as many false notes as a piano pushed from a second-floor window. It's a noisy, cluttered mess, yet . . . possibly a redeemable one.

Here's why. Anticipating a tough sales job, Fox sent out three episodes for review and (in fact) only over the next two does the real "Backstrom" and protagonist emerge: This is a standard-issue procedural whose lineage stretches back to a time when TVs had rabbit ears and Chevys had fins. It's all deeply familiar territory, while Backstrom/Wilson has been surrounded by some seasoned TV pros -- like Dekker, Kennedy, Polaha and Haysbert -- who humanize him. The real surprise, or perhaps only consolation, is that they ultimately do.

BOTTOM LINE After a rough start, "Backstrom" settles into an obvious, and comfortable, procedural rhythm.


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