Television: “Backstrom”

February 27, 2015


Above: Sketch of Rainn Wilson as "Backstrom." Pentel fine-tipped ColorBrush with pigmented ink and then background color with a Montana Marker 15mm tip; in an 8.5 x 11.5 inch Japanese Lined journal.

For TV talk today I'm going to bring up "Backstrom." It's a new police detective show staring Rainn Wilson as the misanthropic title character. He isn't a savant at detection in the way "Monk" was, but there are some similarities in the way he observes things. And he does like to put himself inside the mind of the person he's interrogating.

I have mixed feelings about this show. I don't think the cast has quite gelled. I want to like it a lot more. Now some of this may be due to the fact I started watching it when I had bronchitis and couldn't focus. Then I returned to it once I caught a cold (didn't watch it at all when I was well). And my main reason for watching it is that I really love drawing Rainn Wilson. He has fun features to sketch. There is no way around it. 

And so when I start to watch the show, with good intentions of paying attention, I find instead that I am looking only for sketching opportunities, or actually sketching. And if I stop the action to sketch as I often do (and did for this sketch today) I find that even though I sketch quickly, by the time I start the show again, only 5 to 10 minutes later, I've lost track of what's happening.

My bad.

But if the cast were roaring along together I'd be riveted. Believe me I don't have this problem if I am sketching during "Inspector Lewis."

I intend to give this show more time. And I hope some of that viewing time will actually find me in good health!

There are a couple characters on the show I enjoy. Dennis Haysbert has so much presence that frankly if someone just video taped him all day long and made a 24-hour Dennis Haysbert Channel I would watch. And what a magnificent voice. (I wish I could make my computer sound like Dennis Haysbert. "Roz it's time to have lunch." "Roz do your 15 minute stretch now." etc.)

Backstrom has a "lodger" and I want to say he's Backstrom's nephew? But since I wasn't paying attention I'm not quite sure of any familial link. What I do know is that Thomas Dekker who plays Gregory Valentine has done a great job of capturing my attention for the brief bits the writers allow him on screen. I look forward to more with him.

But that leads me to the IMDb page for this show. He's only listed as being in 6 of the episodes. And more puzzling still if you look at the entire cast list some are listed as being in 10 episodes and Wilson and Haysbert and Genevieve Angelson (who I think should complain to the writers for her dialog) are listed as only being in 9 episodes?

What's that about? An episode in the season without three main characters?

That's a mystery my snot-filled brain cannot fathom.

But give me a face with an interesting nose, wild hair, and some stubble, and I can be happy.

If you've been watching and paying attention (and you are a fan of this genre), share with me what works and doesn't work for you in this show. I'll have to keep watching just so I can sketch Rainn Wilson, but it's about time I started to focus on the show's attributes.

  1. Reply

    Hi Roz, I love your sketch of Rainn Wilson. I’ve tried watching Backstrom but haven’t been thrilled with it. The characters are quirky but seem to be all over the place. Seemingly secondary characters come out at a crime scene and say something completely wacky and I just don’t know why. Maybe they will develop them more and it will become clear. It seems almost like a mashup of the writers’ favorite characters from other cop shows. Like somebody said, “What if we put together Columbo with Monk and Jeff Goldblum’s character from Law & Order – oh, and I love how Vincent Dinofrio used to get up in people’s faces.”
    Great idea to sketch from tv shows – I have a geeky obsession with a news personality and have been thinking of doing as series on him.
    I very much am enjoying your lesson parts in Sketchbook Skool!

  2. Reply

    Thanks Susan, for enjoying the sketch but also for articulating what you feel is missing from the show. I think you’ve hit it. I just think they could have something special and then they miss it. In last night’s show the opening was particularly good and I said to myself, great, now we’re going and then there as a commercial break, and we’re back and nope…Which leads me to believe I like the bits that are most “like me” because I’m cynical like Backstrom in that opening. I don’t think they have many more opportunities to get it together and frankly the love interest between the one detective and the blonde woman (I can’t even remember their names) is totally uninteresting to me and seems like it should be from another show.

    I say sketch that news personality. A series would be fun!

    And I’m glad you are enjoying my sketching animals lessons in “Beginning” in SBS! I hope you are finding lots of animal models to sketch from. In a pinch, though it’s not a advantageous as working with live models, you can turn on a Nature documentary and sketch from that!

    Take care and sketch often!

  3. Reply

    I haven´t seen this series yet, but I did think the Americans would make Bäckström prettier – however, Rainn Wilson is almost as shabby as the Swedish version, Claes Malmberg:

    Love that portrait, I shall bring out my kit this second!

  4. Reply

    Viktoria your comment EXPLAINS SO MUCH!!!! I kept thinking as I was watching the show that it was some “sanitized” version of some British or European shown. I have been sick and didn’t do any research at all. But now that you say there is a Swedish Bäckström it makes perfect sense. American TV rarely has the balls to just go for the totally scruffy and unlikeable. Which is sad. (Carroll O’Conner did it in the first episodes of “All in the Family.” Then it got watered down. “Buffalo Bill” in the 80s? made an attempt.

    Thank you for writing in. I feel so much better knowing this. I will do some internet searches now on this Swedish show.

    Have you seen the Swedish show? Does he have an ex-wife who’s dishy? (I thought they were throwing her in to make B more palatable).

    • joanne
    • February 28, 2015

    Roz, I don’t think you have to invest too much in this program. I read that they are already thinking of canceling it. That lovely voice breaks the story for me–I think we have gone to commercial every time he speaks. State Farm.

    The kid who lives with Backstrom is or isn’t his illegitimate son. the French woman likes Backstrom but WHY? I like the tall dark guy in the suit who meditates. Get him a show of his own, please? Here in Maine we are intrigued by why he is wearing a Portland Seadogs ball cap in Portland OR. They ordered several dozen for the costume department. from the local Portland Maine ball club.

  5. Reply

    Joanne, I’m sure your right it’s going to be cancelled if the main character isn’t even in all the episodes.

    I’m so sorry that Haysbert is just a commercial for you now. I’ve escaped that. And I can even listen to James Earl Jones and not think Darth Vader. (But I had to work hard at that).

    Thank you for telling me who the kid is (I know what he does).

    I think the French woman feels Backstrom is vulnerable. (And he did have that dishy ex-wife—which in TV shorthand means other women are supposed to find him desirable.)

    That tall dark-haired guy you write of…he’s the character I DETEST the most. I simply cannot warm to him. He seems stiff, and plastic.

    You may get your wish however, as they seem to be spending more time with him, including a romance with the French woman. Maybe he’ll have his own show yet.

  6. Reply

    We watch Backstrom and wish so much it would come together. My hubby doesn’t appreciate the pop psych and the uneven pace/plot. I’m sort of annoyed by their shooting in Vancouver, BC, although if they actually shot in Portland they’d be competing with Grimm for locations!

  7. Reply

    If movies can shoot all the time in LA (in fact there’s a movie about LA playing itself in the movies) I would think two series could shoot in Portland? I’d hope. That’s too bad. I find the scene setting is lackluster, perhaps because they are hoping people don’t notice? I’m not familiar enough with Portland to know, but it just seems something that’s passed over.

    SIgh. Will you and your hubby keep watching? I have to sketch Backstrom’s stubble but maybe it’s time for you two to pack it in and watch something else? Let me know what you find.

  8. Reply

    Sorry I´m not keeping up here, but to answer your question the Swedish Bäckström does not have his own tv series. He is originally a character in a book series by Leif GW Persson, and he has been a side character in two mini-series, “Death of a Pilgrim” and “The fourth man”, of which I have only seen the last. He didn´t have a dishy ex, as far as I can remember, he was mainly doing good policework in a very bad way. Unpalatable is a very good way of describing him; he makes your neckhair rise.

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