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'Battle Creek': Two good leads, one invisible city

High-powered producers David Shore (

High-powered producers David Shore ("House") and Vince Gilligan ("Breaking Bad") join forces in this quirky portrait of Michigan police officers (Josh Duhamel, Dean Winters). Credit: CBS / Cliff Lipson

THE SERIES "Battle Creek"

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. on CBS/2

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Det. Russ Agnew (Dean Winters) and his partner, Det. Fontanelle White (Kal Penn), work out of a rundown department without the resources to fight rampant crime in the Rust Belt city they serve, Battle Creek, Michigan. Their precinct boss, Commander Guziewicz (Janet McTeer), promises that help is on the way: FBI Special Agent Milton Chamberlain (Josh Duhamel). He's handsome, charismatic and seems to know everything about everything -- notably how to solve crimes in Battle Creek. Agnew -- who believes in doing things "The Battle Creek way" -- instantly distrusts him. This show is based on a 12-year-old script by Vince Gilligan, who went on to create "Breaking Bad." David Shore ("House") is show-runner.

MY SAY "Battle Creek" is a cop procedural that's riding almost entirely on one bet -- the chemistry of the leads. That might seem like a lousy bet until you actually witness the chemistry. Russ believes in old-fashioned police work. Milt believes in newfangled investigative techniques. Russ is Columbo. Milt is MacGyver. Russ is Sipowicz. Milt is Bond -- James Bond.

 One guy's oil, the other water, and they shouldn't mix but...after a few quips, close calls, and solved cases...you start to wonder when or if they actually will. David Shore has written this adroitly enough, however, to keep the guessing game alive. Why is Milt -- he, with the perfect hair, teeth, and FBI record -- here in Siberia anyway? Why, for that matter, is Russ? Winters and Duhamel are two good and seasoned actors who easily locate what's most endearing, or at least what's most amusing about their respective characters. They know how to keep that game alive too.

But "Battle Creek's" deficiencies are not inconsiderable. For one, this is a very male-centric show: Female characters recede into the background. And not to take anything away from the fine city of Battle Creek, it, too, is completely invisible, to the point of irrelevance, in its namesake series. The show just as easily could have been called "Lansing" or "Kalamazoo."

Gilligan clearly wanted to evoke a city (and police force) of underdogs. Beaten down by the economy, drugs, crime, declining municipal budgets, it always gets up off the mat and fights back. But just like people, cities have unique personalities. Battle Creek's is almost entirely missing here. Maybe that's because it was shot on a Culver City lot, or maybe because Gilligan originally liked the idea of Battle Creek, as opposed to the actual town. (He's admitted that he has never been there.)

GRADE B

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