(l-r) Claire Holt as Charmain, Grey Damon as Shafe, Gethin Anthony as Manson, Emma Dumont as Emma — (Photo by: Jim Fiscus/NBC)
The weekly cases can be interesting, and the dynamic between Duchovny and Damon is fine enough, though it’s strange to see Duchovny in this particular role. Spend enough time watching and rewatching The X-Files, and it becomes jarring to see Duchovny play a more straitlaced detective, the more serious of the duo, and someone who plays by the rules instead of hiding out in a dank basement grumbling about authority. But he’s certainly the highlight of the entire series thus far, like when he’s fumbling through remembering how to recite Miranda rights or clashing with his partner. It’s just too bad he doesn’t seem to have much fun with the role — he was even livelier in the detestable Californication.
It feels strange to say that Aquarius could benefit from a little more lightheartedness, considering its basic narrative is a very real, very serious and horrifying story. But the series takes itself too seriously, it’s intent on being too gritty, and it doesn’t make for an entertaining watch. It’s stiff and uncomfortable and very overt — the series screams that it’s in the ’60s through its unending and jarring music, its overreliance on references and images that we know represent the ’60s (free love, hippie girls with one braid, swaying around a circle, passing around a joint) but that don’t add much to the story besides, “Hey, yep, it’s still the ’60s in this show! Don’t forget!”
It’s possible that Aquarius rights itself throughout the remainder of the series based on NBC’s decision to bulk-release the product, assuming that we’ll all be so hooked by the end of these two episodes that we’ll need to keep going, but I have my doubts. There was nothing in the first episode that made me want to watch the second episode; I’m certainly in no rush to finish the series in a day. And again, because of the timeline, it’s fairly easy to predict that this likely won’t end with the Manson murders, but instead a plea from the writers, in the form of a cliffhanger, for a Season 2 renewal that would be more of the same blandness. A simple, solely Manson-focused story would work, as would a simple, gritty ’60s detective series. But combined, both sides collide and lessen each other’s strengths. Aquarius needs all Manson or no Manson; anything in between is weak.