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Whether I like it or not, I inevitably come into certain series with expectations that cloud my judgment. Enter CBS’ Battle Creek, which is as much an anti-buddy comedy as it is a procedural crime drama. Normally, my eye would get a little twitchy at that self-proposed description, but I found myself gleefully diving into the pilot’s murder mystery with little regard for my predispositions, and with much love for both the cast and creative team behind it all.
Battle Creek is the long-gestating brainchild of Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan, and this modern day version was co-created by House mastermind David Shore. Though this series ostensibly feels nothing like those two precursors, the main characters here share traits with Walter White and Gregory House.
Dean Winters, of Oz and Allstate commercials fame, stars as Russ Agnew, a detective for the financially struggling Battle Creek police department. He handles crime scenes by talking them out with instinct-driven theories, somewhat like Dr. House in pure Sherlock mode. His world is rocked when the FBI sets up a resident agency in town and Josh Duhamel (the Transformers franchise) enters the picture as Special Agent Milton Chamberlain. Milt the Stilt is no Heisenberg, but he shares Walt’s interest in explaining things through forensics and science, and going with his gut isn’t so much of an option. The guy is just good at everything, and Russ looks like a bumbling bully in comparison; the dynamic is a good one.
Having only had the first episode to screen, I don’t get a real sense of any larger stories compounding the procedural element, but Battle Creek’s embrace of mildly quirky comedy over super-serious drama doesn’t really necessitate a deeply intricate overarching plot. I admittedly just want to watch these guys taking on interesting cases while eating tons of coffee cake, since every single person in this show apparently loves baked goods. Plus, Winters is an actor that always works best when his characters are blindly optimistic and under the assumption that they’re right, and watching Russ get increasingly frustrated with Milt’s Super Cop won’t likely get old any time soon.
Beyond the two leads, Battle Creek’s cast remains solid. We’ve got Kal Penn as Russ’ fellow detective Fontanelle, Justified alum Damon Herriman as Detective Niblet, rapper Grapevine as the hulking Detective Funkhauser. Aubrey Dollar (Women’s Murder Club), Liza Lapira (Super Fun Night) and Janet McTeer (The Honorable Woman) keep this crew from being too motley, starring respectively as Holly, Jacocks, and Commander Guziewicz. I can’t wait to see all of these characters’ personalities get developed further as the season goes on.
X-Men: Days of Future Past’s Brian Singer helmed the pilot, and it indeed looks slightly more exciting and upbeat than many shows on CBS’ lineup. Also notable are the episode’s musical cues (from Lior Rosner), as it switches from dramatic to jovial, often in the same scene, to portray the dynamic between Russ and Milt. Assuming the writing and humor keep pace with what we’ve seen here – and considering pilots are usually the weakest episodes, that very well could be – then Battle Creek will likely (and hopefully) find a long-lasting home on CBS.
Find Battle Creek when it premieres tonight on CBS at 9 p.m. ET. Maybe watch it with some cake close by, because you’ll definitely crave some as you’re watching.