Lunchtable TV Talk – Battle Creek: Embattled


Even if Battle Creek gets the axe (which seems pretty likely right now), the first half of its one and probably only season has been entertaining. I recognize that I pull out the “entertaining” word an awful lot. It suffices often enough for these shows that don’t knock it out of the park but pass the time reasonably and pleasantly. But average adjectives are just about all that distinguish TV shows that fail to distinguish themselves.

Battle Creek’s cast should have done half the work by virtue of its experience and talent. The cast, anchored by comeback kid of sorts Dean Winters (best known for playing “Dennis”, Tina Fey’s on-off, loser boyfriend in 30 Rock, “Mayhem” in a long-running series of ads for Allstate Insurance, Ryan O’Reilly in the disturbing HBO prison drama, Oz as well as Rescue Me and Law & Order SVU) as Detective Russ Agnew, comes together within the beleaguered Battle Creek, Michigan police department. They’re led by the multitalented Janet McTeer as their commander, and the police department has basically no resources with which to work. In comes Josh Duhamel as dapper, charming FBI agent, Milt Chamberlain.

The story, with this group of actors, should gel better. The premise pits two very different detectives with two different perspectives on investigative work and on life against each other, but forces them to partner up. Agnew is cynical and distrustful (and his reasons for being this way become clear in the course of the show); Chamberlain, at least from what we have seen in the few episodes we’ve seen, is cheerful and trusting (but we don’t get a very good look at what motivates him or is behind his actions). They work together, improbably, to solve crimes, and the acting should complement the story – but I don’t feel like the show has unfolded a compelling enough story for us to care or to make people watch.

It’s unfortunate because there is potential. Its DNA has a little bit of Vince Gilligan (creator of Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul); guest casting has been clever and fun (a superb and hilarious as well as topical guest appearance from the great Patton Oswalt as Battle Creek’s mayor – a terrific comedic send-up of Toronto’s former mayor Rob Ford; Candice Bergen as Detective Agnew’s con-woman mother).

The actors – both regulars and guest stars – have done their part with the material they have, but the show itself, so far, has not been tight enough, has not been more than middling. If given a chance, I imagine that the show could hit its stride (many shows have surprised us after slow starts in their first seasons). Now it’s just a matter of Battle Creek getting that chance.

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