The Eye of the Beholder (Initial thoughts on Backstrom)

So. Backstrom.

I’m not going to lie – I had some reservations about this. I like smart, funny, character-driven procedurals – (hello, Bones…), but I don’t like jerks – in real life, or in entertainment. In particular, the comparisons to House did it no favors, because I never saw an episode of that show that didn’t leave me wanting to plant my fist in House’s face. (Granted, though, I wasn’t a regular viewer, because fist…face.)

Anyway, I’ve got to say, because it seems so weird to me …I didn’t feel pressured in any way to give Backstrom a shot, just because I’m a Bones fan. Really, the concept of pressure where entertainment promotion is concerned doesn’t even make any sense to me. Part of the point of social media is people sharing things, whether it’s my delight in Bones, my family’s fruitless efforts to get me to watch Game of Thrones, or Hart Hanson’s colleagues encouraging people to watch his new show.

I watch what I want to watch, don’t watch what doesn’t appeal to me, and expect others around me both to do the same, and to let me know their views of what’s out there. Otherwise, how do I find new shows? I first tried Bones because a friend was persistent.

(For that matter, if I was going to feel offended by my Twitter feed filling up with people telling me I should watch something, I’d have unfollowed dozens of people who were tweeting endlessly about Parenthood on Thursday. Instead, it sounds like that was a winner, all the way around, so …good for them.)

Getting back to the point…reservations about the character of Backstrom aside, I have a deep respect for Hart, so I decided to give the show a try.

I think one of the things he does best is to create interesting characters, with distinct personalities. I suspect this is harder than it sounds. I can think of shows – I won’t name them – where even the regulars seem pretty indistinguishable from one another in terms of personality, let alone the minor or recurring ones, but on Bones, I’ve always been impressed by how unique the rotating squinterns are. No, I don’t always like them – but even that, that people have such strong responses to characters we only see occasionally – emphasizes that they’re real people to us.

So I was willing to give the show a try, just to see who Hart peopled it with.

Another thing is that whether or not a person (or fictional character) is an ass is very much in the eye of the beholder. Case in point: I know people who won’t watch Bones because they think Brennan’s an arrogant jerk. (Just to stave off the comments, let me say the obvious: I don’t agree. I adore Brennan, absolutely and unreservedly.) That illustrates, though, that sometimes a character is a complete ass, and sometimes… they only appear to be, and I was willing to find out which one Backstrom is.

Two episodes in, the jury’s still out on that, but I’ve seen enough to keep me watching:

  • Some of the reviews I read described Backstrom as a bigot, but most bigots, in my experience, are ignorant, guilty of gross stereotyping, and see their own beliefs, culture, or race as superior. I’m not sure any of that applies here. He’s offensive, yes, and certainly politically incorrect, but when he’s an ass to his Indian doctor, ignorance of the other man’s religion isn’t a factor, and neither is his promotion of his own. He’s scornful of everyone and everything equally.
  • His relationship with Valentine weighs heavily in the plus column for me. It’s one of my favorite parts of the show, and the trust and affection there (however weirdly expressed on Backstrom’s part), make it even harder for me to apply the bigot label, because…middle-aged straight dude/young gay guy. That’s not a scenario where bigots (on either side) are common.
  • In the second episode, Backstrom’s response to the young fireman telling him he was trusting him with his life was a panic attack. (Or that’s how I read the scene, at least.) This is not the usual behavior of someone who truly cares nothing for other people.
  • The joy we see him display while flying Bella…there’s no cynicism there. He’s happy, and unlike most genuine asses I have the misfortune to know, his pleasure isn’t tied to abusing others. I hope to see more of it.

Finally, to be a hopeless jerk, he’s surrounded by a lot of decent, loyal people. If there’s someone you can call to rescue you in the middle of the night when you’ve been dumped on the street, nearly naked…it’s because they see something in you, something that makes that effort worthwhile. I want to know more about what that is.

At this point, Gravely, Niedermayer, Almond, and Valentine interest me the most, both as individual characters and in the whys and wherefores of their relationship with, and loyalty to, Backstrom. The surface explanation that he’s responsible for them closing cases (well, where the cops are concerned, at least) seems insufficient when it’s surely only a matter of time until his methods (planting evidence, falsifying warrants) will have, er, negative consequences for all of them. So what else is behind it? Inquiring minds want to know.

I don’t feel like I have much of a handle on Moto and Nadia yet, but…early days.

Humor, heart, a number of likable characters – and one who is decidedly not likable, but whom I’m somehow rooting for, anyway… I’m not yet in love with the show, may never be, but I will say this: I watched exactly two hours of TV this week, and one of them was Backstrom.





10 thoughts on “The Eye of the Beholder (Initial thoughts on Backstrom)

  1. Another thing in Bella when they step into the guilty party’s car. Start to get to her. She says “This guy hates women. You know that, right? Why do you help him.” To which Gravely replies “This guy. Yeah no, he is the worst. But I don’t actually think he hates women more than he hates men. He hates everybody. But he really hates people who try to get away with murder, and he hates you.”

    And I think that’s kind of why they work with him. It’s not bigotry, it’s just a general hatred for mankind and a specific hatred for killers. They have said that he sees the worst in everyone. I think it means the potential for bad that everyone has in them. Normally we view our heros as seeing the best in others, and hopefully bringing out the best in everyone. Backstrom turns that inside out.

    I also loved the end scene in Bella. And not only did we see such in his face when flying Bella, I also loved when Valentine asked Backstrom if he’d make him one and without hesitation “Yeah, now be quiet.”

    I like the supporting characters and would add Moto to the list of your list of individual and interesting characters. It’s just Nadia that I really don’t have any kind of feel for at all. Heck I’d even forgotten her name, but I think they are kind of handicapped with her right now because she’s not out on the field with the rest, so it might take a little longer to fully introduce her.

    As for the people being upset about Hart’s friends tweeting about watching Backstrom, I don’t get that at all. They are his friends, he has a new show just starting out, what kind of friends would they be if they just ignored that? They like him, they support him, they want him to continue to succeed. If they were so jealous that they felt his only success should be Bones related they’d be pretty crappy friends. And hey them tweeting about it isn’t forcing me to watch it. Now if they strapped me to a chair, restrained my head so it pointed to the TV, and taped my eyes open to force me to watch that would be an entirely different matter. But hey; that’s just my view on it.

    • That’s a good point about him turning things inside out in terms of seeing the worst of people. His giving Gravely the collar also reminded me of Eve, a bit. Who got credit wasn’t as important as stopping her.

      And I loved him telling Valentine he’d make him one – but I loved that whole scene.

      (As for people complaining about the promotion…you know if Bones peeps weren’t promoting it, people would be saying they were angry over it/hate it, etc. It’s a no-win.)

  2. I watched the second episode and I was distracted by the little tie ins to Bones….The actors playing the D’Agostino Brothers (Yay for Sully) and Niedermeyer, plus the whole firemen as thieves plot line similar to Fire in the Ice. I thought Gravely and Almond were more interesting than Backstrom. The twist with the guilty one was a good thing, and the end with Bella was very good. I am not sure I liked how lightly the bullying aspect was treated, but I could be over sensitive there. I was very happy with the portrayal of the relationship between Backstrom and Valentine.

    I am not on Twitter so I wouldn’t know about how shows are promoted there, but of course people producing the show want people to watch and they are trying to reach the target audience. That’s part of the business of staying on TV. Sometimes I think people are just looking for things to complain about….but all’s fair in love, war, and producing television shows.

    • I think my favorite part so far are how the characters all interact – not only with Backstrom, but each other. I enjoyed the scenes with Niedermayer and Valentine, too, and a lot of my favorite dialog is coming from Gravely.

      In both books and TV/films, I like stories about groups of people with complicated bonds, told with at least some humor. I’m looking forward to seeing how the series develops.

      (And yes, unfortunately, on the looking-for-something-to-complain-about.)

      • I kind of get the feeling in this show that we started in the middle of it….I wonder if all the characters tolerate Backstrom because of something that happened to make him the way he is and they all know about it and have compassion for him.

        When Bones began Brennan was rude and blunt but didn’t usually mean to hurt anybody. This man tries to hurt people so they will leave him alone. Brennan has mellowed so if this show is on long enough maybe we will get insight into Backstrom and he might mellow a bit, or we might be able to understand where he is coming from.

        Like you, I didn’t like House because I could not figure out why people let him get away with being such a jerk. He had very few redeeming qualities. I know enough people like that in real life, so why watch it on TV?

        It will be interesting to see how things unfold.

      • There are differences between Brennan and Backstrom, yes, but the similarities, of someone who offends people – while having a team of people who see beyond that – is part of the appeal for me, I think. I do believe we’ll see more of what’s behind Backstrom as we go along – both the reason for his pushing people away, as well as that there’s more to him than that.
        (And agreed on House – part of my problem there was that I was never convinced there was anything else beyond his rudeness. Brilliance, sure, but it wasn’t enough.)
        I found this interesting: Hart tweeted a picture from the last scene of the 2nd ep yesterday, of Backstrom and Valentine, when he’s flying the kite. He added the comment “Frozen on film: the exact moment where some of you decided you could trust Backstrom with a tiny piece of your heart.” – that, to me, makes it sound very much as if we’re going to see there’s more to him than what’s on the surface. And I’m looking forward to that.

  3. I also think it is interesting that the people in charge have made Backstrom even physically unattractive….not ugly, but slumping, unkempt, unshaven and poorly dressed. I can almost imagine the combination of cigar smoke with other odors on his clothes. That enhances the riddle, doesn’t it? Why do these people care about him? I guess we have to watch to find out.

  4. i thought last Thursday’s episode was actually pretty good. I am glad we are finally getting some back story on the characters.

    • Sorry it’s taken me so long to comment on this! Been insanely busy at work.

      I’m still enjoying Backstrom, very much. At some point, I’ll type up additional thoughts on it.

  5. I loved this show along with my husband and was pissed it was canceled. Thankfully I was able to buy the whole series on Amazon! LOL. Had a Backstrom binge when I was sick a couple of weeks ago.

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