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'Battle Creek' Review: Even the Ghost of Vince Gilligan Is Better Than Most of What's On TV

By Dustin Rowles | TV | March 2, 2015 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | March 2, 2015 |

CBS’s new cop show, Battle Creek starring Dean Winters and Josh Duhamel, debuted last night. Sunday night is already a hugely competitive night with The Walking Dead, and the various other premium cable dramas, not to mention Game of Thrones and Mad Men, which will bring even more competition to the series come April. Based on the pilot, it’s not going to be a show that you should prioritize over the other cable dramas, but it’s probably worth keeping on your DVR to watch on Monday or Tuesday nights if you have spaces to fill in your television viewing schedule.

The pilot is based on a script that Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan wrote about a decade ago that CBS finally decided to order to series after Gilligan’s AMC drama took the world by storm. Gilligan actually doesn’t have much to do with it anymore (he’s busy with Better Saul), but they did bring in veteran David Shore (House, M.D.) to run the show and Bryan Singer (the X-Men franchise) to direct the pilot, and result is actually not bad.

It’s a buddy cop “dramedy” that plays best on its comedy side. Dean Winters (30 Rock) plays Detective Russ Agnew, a cynical and grizzled cop in the underfunded Battle Creek Michigan police department. He’s beat down and cantankerous, but unlike Backstrom or Dr. House, it’s not immediately apparent that he’s great at his job.

Enter Josh Duhamel (Fergie’s husband), who plays Special Agent Milton Chamberlain. He’s an FBI golden boy who has been stationed in Battle Creek for reasons unknown, though it may be that it’s because everyone else in the FBI resents him for how effortlessly good he is at his job. Unlike Agnew, he has all the resources of the FBI, but he doesn’t have the same feel for the local color that Winters’ character does. Obviously, the two end up working together to solve murder cases.

It’s not exactly a by-the-books versus reckless wildcard buddy cop relationships. It’s more like the hustler cop versus the ambitious gunner, and while Agnew despises Chamberlain, he doesn’t really register that much to the FBI agent. Kal Penn, meanwhile, adds more comic relief as Agnews’ other partner, while Janet McTeer plays the commander of the police force.

It’s a cop show on a network, so it’s not exactly necessary television viewing. Moreover, it hardly does justice to Vince Gilligan’s good name. Nevertheless, the pilot is darkly comical and entertaining enough. In fact, it’s already supplanted Backstrom as the one weekly procedural in my weekly television diet. If it can successfully backburner the homicides-of-the-week formula and play up an as-yet-unknown series’ long arc (an unlikely scenario on network television), I may even stick with it the rest of the season.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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