Rainn Wilson plays a dick on Backstrom.
  • Fox
  • Rainn Wilson plays a dick on Backstrom.

Over the weekend, I finished watching the second season of The Fall, a BBC2 crime drama that was picked up by Netflix. As I wrote when the first season became available back in 2013, the series is unusual for the murder-mystery genre in that the killer’s identity isn’t, nor has it ever been, a mystery. Viewers become reluctant voyeurs as Paul Spector (played by objectively handsome person Jamie Dornan) stalks and kills a series of women (and one unfortunate man) in Northern Ireland. Also uncommon is that it’s anchored by a decently complex female character, Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson (Gillian Anderson).

I can’t necessarily recommend the second season to anyone who didn’t watch the first and isn’t dying to see what happens (or who isn’t dying to see Dornan play a different sexual deviant weeks before Fifty Shades of Grey is released). By midseason, the police are all but positive that Spector is the killer, but hesitate to arrest him for at least another episode and a half; they have their reasons, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying to watch.

It also felt like it had less to say about the Stella Gibson character’s interior life; the glimpses we get are almost exclusively carnal, like when she attempts to lure a female colleague up to her hotel room, or when she handpicks an attractive male detective to work on the case and we can rest assured we’ll find him in her bed at some point. (We did.) Like lots of other television detectives, Stella is allowed to be sort of a mess of a person, to have childhood scars, unorthodox compulsions, and to be indelicate with the feelings of others—but she has to be beautiful and overtly sexual to get away with it.

Meanwhile, on the new series Backstrom, Fox introduces us to another detective with daddy issues and a willful ignorance of healthy interpersonal relationships, Everett Backstrom, played by Rainn Wilson. (I should point out that stylistically, this show and The Fall have very little in common except that they’re about ambiguous detective types, and I happened to watch them back to back.) Backstrom places an antisocial asshole who’s in poor health in what’s basically a cross between a sitcom and Law & Order; it’s House M.D., except everyone carries badges and guns instead of stethoscopes. And each case is wrapped up with a bow by episode’s end.

Like the doctor before him, Backstrom doesn’t even have to be sexy (or even remotely not disgusting). He can say things that are racist and sexist. He can be a slob and sleep till noon. He can offend witnesses. It’s practically encouraged by everyone around him except his female partner and foil, who has to play it arrow straight just to keep her partner in line.

Why do male detectives always get to have all the fun?

Of course, letting Backstrom be Backstrom is worthwhile because he’s a genius. (As a promotional poster advertises, “Brilliant detective, total dick.”) His “thing” is solving crimes by putting himself in other people’s shoes (which, based on his personality, you’d think he’d be terrible at). And his mantra is that there are no innocent victims—people do things to get themselves killed.

So he’s as pessimistic as Rust Cohle—but this is no True Detective.