He's mean, he's nasty ... he's just right for TV


Things have been tough for the Fox network lately, but ratings should perk up a bit. "American Idol" is back, "Empire" got off to a good start ... and now the amiably quirky "Backstrom" debuts Thursday (Jan. 22). Here's the story I sent to papers:

By MIKE HUGHES

Sure, there are
nice, normal, neighborly folks who catch crooks or cure patients.
They're just not always considered interesting on television.

So TV gives us
“House” and “Bones” and “Elementary” and “Wallander”
and “The Mentalist” and more. It gives us characters who are long
on talent and short on social skills.

And now Fox has
“Backstrom.” Like PBS' “Wallander,” it's based on
Scandinavian novels about a police detective; like many shows, its
hero isn't very happy about people or life.

“In the books,
Backstrom has absolutely no redeeming values,” said writer-producer
Hart Hanson. “He's not even a very good detective; he just takes
credit for what other people do .... He's just awful.”

Adapting the books
for TV, Hanson made Backstrom skillful at work, but socially inept
... sort of like Brennan in his “Bones” series. But he kept the
meanness.

Ironically, Hanson
seems to be a pleasant guy. “I am an apparently genial Canadian
man,” he conceded.

You don't expect him
to write anything nasty. “Look how affable and pasty and delightful
(he is),” said Rainn Wilson, who stars. “You just want to hug
him. But there is a Backstrom that is inside of him, waiting to burst
out of his chest like an alien.”

The same contrast
exists with Wilson, who seems to be a genial bloke. He grew up in the
Bahai faith and spent some teen years in Winnetka, Ill., where his
parents worked at the Bahai National Center. At press sessions, he
tends to have a sly grin; in “The Office,” he made the villain
(Dwight) an affable oaf.

“We all have our
demons,” Wilson said. “I think part of the job as an actor is to
find what your relation is for any character.”

Also, he decided
Backstrom isn't as evil as he first seems. “You're like, 'Oh wow,
this guy's a racist and a sexist,'” Wilson said. “And then you
kind of go: 'Oh, wow, you know what? He kind of hates everybody.'
Then you kind of go, 'Oh wow, he hates himself worse than he hates
anyone else.'”

And plunked
alongside him are the sort of people he insults.

“My character is a
blatant homosexual living with him,” Thomas Dekker said. “They're
both equally bitter and misanthropic.”

Then there's a
police colleague (and lay minister) played by Dennis Haysbert, using
the sense of authority he's shown in “24” (as President Palmer)
and in insurance commercials. “My journey,” he said, “is to
figure out: 'OK, why would (Backstrom) stand in front of a
6-foot-4-inch black man with a gun and say (racist quips)?”

Then again, Wilson
and Kristoffer Polaha are both near 6-foot-3; the “Backstrom”
debates are held at a high level ... except for Genevieve Angelson,
who plays a young cop.

“I am 5-foot-4,”
she said. “And I spent six months (standing) on an apple box.”

There, she stood
between verbal barrages by mean-and-brainy crimesolvers. It's the TV
way.

-- “Backstrom,”
9 p.m. Thursdays, Fox; debuting Jan. 22