Another show about mismatched cops. Seen it before, right? Well, maybe they're not all the same. True Detective was, essentially, a show about mismatched cops needling each other.
Battle Creek (Sunday, CBC, Global 10 p.m.) is no True Detective, but it's an offbeat, loopy police procedural with some charm. What makes it the top item on a busy weekend for midseason TV is the creator: Vince Gilligan wrote it before he did Breaking Bad. It was shopped around to various networks and sank into development paralysis. Once Breaking Bad became a cultural phenomenon, Battle Creek was revived.
Gilligan doesn't have much to do with it now, although his name appears as executive producer. With his agreement, it's in the hands of Canadian David Shore, creator of the megahit House. (There is other Canadian involvement, too: Esta Spalding, whose credits include everything from Da Vinci's Inquest to Rookie Blue, is a writer of several episodes.) Shore says he "tweaked" Gilligan's material and set out on his own path. That path involves diversion from the network template. It's a cop show about a crime being solved every week, but Shore has said, "If a story could appear on CSI or Law & Order, then we won't tell it."
Fair enough, and the promise is kept. What we get is the town of Battle Creek, Mich., where the cops have little money or resources. Resources such as batteries and cellphones. Rumpled wiseguy Detective Russ (Dean Winters from Oz and Rescue Me) appeals for more resources and what he gets is a huge irritation, in the form of FBI agent and smoothie Milt Chamberlain (Josh Duhamel) – his name gives you a sense of the jokey tone – who is too good to be true.
And so they are paired together, the rough and the smooth, solving the sort of crimes that are unleashed in mid-sized towns. The attraction here isn't the complexity of the crime-solving. It's the tone and flavour. Sarcastic humour abounds and there's a certain whimsy let loose. One episode features an outbreak of criminality in the maple syrup racket. Another features a Rob Ford-like mayor.
The opening episode is strong, with all sorts of mayhem, of the ordinary kind, thrown at us. The cast is excellent. Winters is all grumpy smarts and Duhamel is repulsive slick. Around them, Kal Penn (from House and the Obama administration) is a deadpan, sad-sack unambitious sidekick and Janet McTeer adds much subtlety to the role of police commander.
Also airing this weekend
Secrets and Lies (Sunday, ABC, CTV, 9 p.m.) is a remake of the Australian murder-mystery miniseries seen last year on CBC. It's a pointless, ridiculous remake. The story is largely the same: A young suburban father (Ryan Philippe) finds the body of a child in the woods, becomes the prime suspect and is obliged to find the real killer. There's another twist I can't give away, not that it matters. The series opens with a lot of bombast, but it soon becomes clear this is a very creaky drama. Phillippe is miscast and, worse, Juliette Lewis is downright awful as the cop pursuing the case.
The Last Man on Earth (Sunday, Fox, 9 p.m.) has a lot going for it. In the short term, anyway. It's the year 2020 and some virus has wiped out everybody in the United States except one guy, Phil Miller (Will Forte). There's not much action. No zombies to battle or aliens to dodge. Just one lonely, ordinary guy who drives around hoping someone else is alive. If it were a woman, that would be excellent. This daft premise is given weight and humour by Forte, who also created it. The slow diminishment of Phil from happy-go-lucky survivor to lonely, strung-out mess is deftly done. Part of the joke is that what happens to Phil is what happens to all men when women aren't there. And then … well, let's just say Phil gets a surprise. The first two episodes are a delight, but it is hard to tell how far its zany feel and peculiar angst can be stretched.
Don't forget the Canadian Screen Awards (Sunday, CBC, 8 p.m.) for Canadian shows and movies. Andrea Martin hosts. Julianne Moore was announced late as a presenter (she's in the nominated Maps to the Stars) and it's likely Orphan Black will win a bunch of TV awards. Nominees for Best Dramatic Series, the big one, are: 19-2, Continuum, Motive, Orphan Black and Remedy. If you watch any Canadian TV you should watch the awards show. But, cross your fingers, it had better be fun.