By Rob Lowman, Los Angeles Daily News
In the absorbing new NBC crime thriller “Aquarius,” David Duchovny exudes the same sort of laid-back cool he had in “The X-Files,” only this time he’s a middle-aged cop in Los Angeles in the ’60s.
The first episode is called “Everybody’s Been Burned,” which is also the name of a David Crosby song when he was in the Byrds that is playing on the soundtrack when we meet Duchovny’s Sam Hodiak. He is a decorated World War II veteran and LAPD homicide detective in a city undergoing a metamorphosis.
When Sam gets a call from a former flame, Grace (Michaela McManus), about her 16-year-old daughter, Emma Karn (Emma Dumont), going missing, he agrees to find her — unofficially
Along the way, the detective enlists the help of Brian Shafe (Grey Damon), a young undercover cop who was allowed to grow his hair long and has taken flak for it from the older members of the department. Not Sam, though. He also gets help from a female officer, Charmain Tully (Claire Holt), who is tired of the sexism in the force and wants to make her mark.
As they search for Emma and investigate other crimes, they find their paths crossing with the leader of a hippie community named Charlie Manson (Gethin Anthony, the late King Renly of “Game of Thrones”). He holds a cult-like sway over his followers, many of them women.
At the time, Manson had ambitions to be a rock star. He even recorded an album. Anthony learned guitar for the role and told me he listened to Manson when he was talking during recording sessions to capture his voice. The notorious murderer sounds more strident in later prison interviews.
While the references are real, “Aquarius” is fictional, set two years before the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders committed by the Manson Family that shocked the world. Besides being a compelling cop drama, what is impressive about “Aquarius” is that it manages to get the era right. Even its soundtrack is interesting. While there’s some familiar songs from the 1960s, it also has lesser-known numbers like “Everybody’s Been Burned.”
Too many movies and TV series reduce the era to the stereotypes. Even NBC’s press material pushes that. But Duchovny’s Sam is a complicated figure. He seems to have an artistic side. Like Manson, he plays guitar. He is more sanguine about cultural changes. A vet, Sam urged his 18-year-old son to do his duty by joining the Army and going to Vietnam, but he’s not sure he did the right thing. Like many from “The Greatest Generation,” he understands he fought for freedom and that means allowing people to make their own choices.
Sam may not agree with or particularly like the hippie lifestyle, but he’s not fighting change. The 1960s was far from the way it is often portrayed — a simple divide between the Silent Majority and the counterculture with a “Don’t trust anyone over 30” mantra.
The hippie was something of a new frontier. Drugs made it that way, and like any frontier — the Old West — it attracted its share of slimeballs and con men looking to prey on the gullible. That’s what Manson was, a small-time hood who seduced his drug-addled followers.
Now 80, Manson sits in Corcoran State Prison. His death sentence was commuted in 1972, when the state court temporarily eliminated California’s death penalty. He didn’t participate directly in the seven Tate-LaBianca murders, but he is believed to possibly have committed others before, and certainly many other crimes.