I really wanted to like Aquarius. What I mean is that the set-up, featuring society on the cusp of the counter culture in Los Angeles, with all its hippie utopia colliding with the darkness of Vietnam, the Watts riots, and of course the Manson family, is wonderfully colourful fodder for a contemporary miniseries/costume opera. What better material could you ask for in terms of good narrative threads, a wide variety of personalities, and great imagery? The So-Cal dream with its late sixties style, permissiveness, and lotus-land consciousness is rife with narrative potential as it meets the urban grit of your typical hard-boiled Los Angeles police department. Throw in some accomplished faces and the thing should write itself. And it succeeds to a degree. It's wonderful to look at, and well, feel. The series' construction works masterfully to affect a quiet unease amongst sun-drenched suburbs. The art direction has captured the Los Angeles of its day to a tee. You can practically smell the sweat and patchouli in the scenes of the hippie retreat of Topanga Canyon. Furthermore, there are interesting narrative arcs and sub-arcs that weave in and out of the two main characters' (David Duchovny as Sam Hodiak, the jaded, button-down detective, and Grey Damon as the undercover age-of-Aquarius narc) caseload. Items such as block-busting, the Black Panthers, and the anti-war movement all intrigue as we are reminded about just how fast a massive amount of social change was occurring at the time. A good eighty percent of this is really good, solid storytelling. Except it's also really troubled. There's that other twenty percent. And the biggest fault here is what they've given Duchovny to say. And how they told him how to say it. We know that Duchovny can make a good geekish, details-oriented detective, and against the setting of a transitioning world it's an apt, loner-ish choice. However, there's far too little of Mulder here, and unfortunately far, far too much of Californication's Hank Moody instead. It's as if he's being directed to be all his previous roles at the same time. While he comes off with intelligent observations about whatever nefarious crime he's looking into, he apparently cannot help but offer smug little one liners, in which the sense of irony is so completely before its time it's like he's in a completely different TV show. So badly do these dialogical frogs emerge, that one wonders if they let him write his own lines. But this isn't the whole of it. There are some relationships that just reek of falseness. The wealthy couple Grace and Ken, whose daughter has been adopted into the Manson clan, have conflicting and ridiculous reactions to the motivations in their lives. One asks if they themselves are on the acid their daughter takes with Charlie Manson, by accident perhaps? Furthermore, Hodiak's affair with Grace, and indeed his entire personal life, appears to have no emotional, nor rational foundation. For example, he's in recovery for the first five episodes, and then he's not – but without any really big reasons to be, or apparent consequences for not being. This is add-on screen writing at its worst and stinks of having been scribed 'by committee'. Worse than this however, is Ken's supposed evilness. Here, all the cards are pulled out. Greed, lust, duplicity, abandonment of one's child, being a lawyer, and belonging to the Republican party are all paraded and conflated as a consequence of Ken's – horror of horrors – homosexuality. Furthermore, they add onto this overloaded gay signifier the ultimate repulsion, a salacious gay romp with – you guessed it – Charlie Manson himself (played marvellously by Gethin Anthony – Game of Thrones' Renly Baratheon). This kind of demonizing of queerness is cheap, manipulative, and agonizingly tired. It's so bad in fact that it reminds one of bad network television of the era it's set in. These worn-thin tropes are one of the main reasons that the public is turning away from such twaddle, and moving towards much superior cable programming. Such programming is clearly what this show is attempting to catch up to – they've even gone so far to release the entire show at once - a la Netflicks. Yet come to think of it, looking at this as a piece of network television, one wonders if they'll ever really learn.
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