Sunday, November 20, 2016
REVIEW: Battle Creek, Season 1 (live action TV series)
The Battle Creek, Michigan police department is an under-funded joke, limping along with broken or non-existent equipment. Detective Russ Agnew hopes for help and improvements, but FBI Special Agent Milt Chamberlain isn't what he had in mind. Milt is friendly, well-liked, and backed by FBI manpower and technology. Russ doesn't trust him and resents how instantly good he seems to be at everything. He knows there must be a story behind Milt's apparent demotion to Battle Creek. He's determined to find out as much as he can, and outdo Milt while he's at it.
I almost stopped watching this show during the first episode. Russ was too abrasive, a caricature of a tough-as-nails big city cop. He repeatedly bent or broke rules, or vocally wished he could break them. Milt, meanwhile, was somewhat intriguing, but his slickness put me off. He annoyed me almost as much as he annoyed Russ.
The second episode was better, but it was sometime during the third episode that I really got hooked. Milt appeared to be genuinely kind, despite his secretiveness and many lies. Russ still had a horrifying disregard for rules (he was the kind of cop who'd plant evidence because he just knew that a particular person was responsible for a crime even if he couldn't prove it), but there was a certain gruff sweetness to him. I wanted to see if Milt could somehow manage to keep him in line, and I wanted to know, too, why Milt felt the urge to do anything at all for Russ. After all, Russ repeatedly made it clear that he didn't like or trust him.
Episodes 7 and 10 were two of my favorites. Episode 7 introduced Russ's mother, a con artist who lied and manipulated people as easily as breathing. It gave me a better understanding of why Russ was the way he was, and, even though Russ's mother frustrated me, I still kind of liked the sweet moments at the end of the episode. In episode 10, Russ was held hostage by an escaped convict. This was another surprisingly sweet episode, although, granted, like the episode title said, Stockholm syndrome probably played a part. Regardless, I really enjoyed seeing Milt worry about Russ and seeing Russ break down for a moment when Milt found him.
The show's relationships were a big part of what kept me watching. I liked Russ and Milt's growing friendship, Russ's apparent desire to connect with people and yet inability to do so, and the slow burn romance between Russ and Holly, the office manager at the police department. Unfortunately, the pacing was often kind of weird and frustrating. Russ, for example, was given multiple opportunities to deepen his relationships with others. He even had those opportunities pointed out to him by Milt and others. Instead of taking advantage of them, he purposely turned his back on them, and I'm still not entirely sure why. His repeated excuse for not asking Holly out was that they worked together, and yet, like Milt pointed out, there were many other rules and laws that he bent or broke without hesitation. Did he build walls around himself because of his mother and the way she raised him? Because he expected the worst from everybody, including himself? It's tough to say.
Russ and Milt's relationship mostly worked for me, although the last few episodes were odd. In one, Milt did the kind of rule-breaking/bending I'd normally have expected from Russ. The rapid change in his behavior was maybe explained by some of the things revealed in the last episode, but it still seemed really odd. I also felt that Russ deciding to help Milt out, almost unquestioningly and without letting any of the people he'd known for years in on it all, was a bit off. Necessary for the story, yes, but considering how walled off Russ was, not quite believable.
Russ and Holly's romance was...less appealing to me. I loved it, at first. Holly was the polar opposite of Russ, and I guessed that part of the reason why Russ was reluctant to ask her out was because he didn't want to risk any of his faults rubbing off on her. I loved the slow burn aspect of their relationship, which was why I was dismayed when they went straight from awkwardly avoiding asking each other out to Holly throwing herself at Russ and the two of them having sex in the evidence room.
I hated the end of the last episode, and I hate it even more now that I know that the series was canceled and this one season is it. Saying “I'll be all right” isn't the same thing as actually showing it, and things were pretty clearly not all right in that particular moment.
Things went a little off the rails in the final few episodes, and I wish the last episode had been tweaked a bit to end in a more satisfying way. All in all, though, this made for mostly enjoyable if problematic binge-watching.