Los Angeles, 1967. Welcome to the Summer of Love. Aquarius stars David Duchovny as Sam Hodiak, a seasoned homicide detective whose investigations dovetail with the activities of real-life cult leader Charles Manson in the years before he masterminded the most notorious killings of a generation, the Tate-LaBianca murders. A small-time but charismatic leader with big plans, Manson has begun to build up his "family", recruiting vulnerable young men and women to join his cause. Teaming up with a young cop who will help him infiltrate Manson's circle, Hodiak is forced to see things through the questioning eyes of someone who came of age amongst the current anti-establishment counterculture. Edgy, addictive and visually stunning, the Age of Aquarius is here.
Full disclosure, I must admit to an unabashed love for David Duchovny. Everyone's got their favorite actor or actress, and he's one of mine. He's the only person I've ever been star struck by at the Sundance Film Festival. So, naturally when it was announced he was donning the G-man suit and tie once again, I was immediately interested.
'Aquarius' is a crime drama set in 1967 Los Angeles. Duchovny plays LAPD detective Sam Hodiak who gets drawn into a missing person case, which proves to be something so much more. Turns out Hodiak is unknowingly hunting one of America's most well-known cult leaders and murderers, Charles Manson (Gethin Anthony)
Hodiak is your typical loose-cannon type. He even uses phrases like "cracking skulls" to define his interrogation techniques. It's hilariously stereotypical, but Duchovny pulls it off with his wry wit and nonchalant way of acting. Early on he's joined in his investigation by undercover cop Brian Shafe (Grey Damon) who doesn't deal well with Hodiak's propensity for non-by-the-book-ness. For heaven's sake, Hodiak doesn't even know the Miranda Rights! They're your typical odd couple, constantly bickering between where the line is. Hodiak gets results and Shafe argues that the ends don't justify the means.
While Duchovny is holding down the fort, Gethin Anthony appears on screen and surreptitiously steals the series. His Manson performance is equal parts over-the-top, and bizarrely creepy. Inhabiting that character can't be easy, but Anthony does quite a masterful job. His charisma is believable. It has to be, or there's no way we could buy him as the alluring personality that was young Charles Manson. He was able to expertly lure young women out of the comfort of their homes and into his commune. Anthony's presence is slimy and sadistic, but he's also charming which is even scarier.
Being a period drama set in the late 60s, the backdrop of the Manson versus Hodiak story unfolds amongst a nation boiling under the civil rights movement. This is brought to the forefront in episode two when Hodiak uses race baiting and other sleazy tactics to get a man to confess to murder. It's a different time, and 'Aquarius' does a good job at illustrating it. As the show moves along the underpinnings of racial conflict are amplified by Manson's racism.
'Aquarius' isn't the perfect police drama, it's got its problem. For one, the slow burn becomes a little tedious. Yes, Hodiak is chasing Manson, but it's stretched out and the show takes its time with the main case at hand. So, Hodiak and his new partner find themselves investigating and solving other unrelated cases.
There's also the sub-plot with Hodiak's family, his estranged drunk of a wife, and his son who's mysteriously home from combat duty even though he's not supposed to be. All of this helps build characters, but it also seems like filler sometimes.
Though I never tired of watching Manson. Anthony's performance has created a great television villain. His creepy presence, coupled with Duchovny's innate ability to play a suit-wearing law enforcement office who flagrantly flaunts the rules, make 'Aquarius' a television show worth checking out.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Aquarius' comes with four 50GB Blu-rays all packaged into a standard keepcase, each disc with their own hubs. The case indicates this is a Region A release.
Reflecting the period this 1080p presentation is filmed with a gauziness one might relate to older film. That being said, it still looks quite good in high definition. The detail is there, but sometimes it suffers because of the decision to use handheld shaky-cam for most of the filming.
The aforementioned gauziness enables bright white and lights to bleed over edges and drown out definition. This seems to be a stylistic choice rather than a problem with the transfer. Background light streaming through windows is encircled by a soft halo, which in turn softens the objects or people in the foreground.
Close-ups feature the most detail. Facial features like Manson's scraggly beard are easily visible. I did notice some pretty egregious banding in black areas and bright whites. That's the one knock on this presentation. There is visible banding throughout the series. It isn't constant, but it crops up now and then and does hamper the viewing pleasure.
The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is really well rounded. A lot of television shows aren't as proficient in the audio department. There are many instances where TV shows don't seem to mix together an encompassing sound mix that feels cinematic in quality. 'Aquarius' isn't one of those.
The sounds of Los Angeles are nicely captured here. There doesn't seem like there's a moment in the proceedings where the surround channels aren't getting at least some work. The surroundings are rarely quiet as Hodiak wanders the city streets and visits raucous parties. Even Manson's mountain retreat is full of natural sounds along with the echoing of his guitar and vocals.
All the dialogue is delivered cleanly up front. I never noticed a problem with clarity there. Directionality worked well too in scenes where characters are talking just off screen. There are plenty of action-packed scenes that allow the LFE to shine too. This was one of the better TV audio mixes I've heard.
Webisodes (HD, 11 min.) - There are four webisodes included. NBC filmed a few shorts that ran in their "Summer of Love: Digital Series." They were web exclusives that showcased more of Manson's backstory.
First Look: 'Aquarius' (HD, 3 min.) - A short EPK promo featurette introducing the show.
'Aquarius' didn't receive a lot of hype. It debuted on Hulu and NBC.com, but there didn't seem to be much fanfare for it. The ratings for when it did hit the airwaves, started out promisingly then dwindled. Yet, it's something you should check out if you're even the least bit interested. It may feel like the same old procedural, but the actors involved make it a somewhat unique experience. This season set has some solid video and great audio, which is why it's recommended.