Battle Creek Season 1 Episode 1 Review: “The Battle Creek Way”

Battle Creek

“We’re all bad guys, kid. We’re all good guys too.” This was a line from tonight’s episode, spoken from one drug dealer to another, in a life and death situation. Coincidentally, it describes the essence of the new CBS series Battle Creek.

The long anticipated Vince Gilligan brainchild has finally arrived. Fans of Gilligan’s from Breaking Bad have been having the debate for some time if he can keep up his successes. Advertising Battle Creek as being from Vince Gilligan is true, but misleading, as Gilligan wrote the pilot, but is spending most of his creative juices on Better Call Saul nowadays. Gilligan remains as an executive producer, but David Shore (House) will be the showrunner for the series and Bryan Singer (X-Men) directed the pilot. All in all, there is a solid creative team behind Battle Creek. 

Battle Creek follows the police department in Battle Creek, Michigan. They have little to no operating budget, and their city was greatly affected by the economic downturn. It’s easy to see how their best detective, Russ Agnew (Dean Winters of Law and Order: SVU), would and has become a cynic. Things are shaken up, however, when the FBI sets up a satellite office across the hall and sends Special Agent Milt Chamberlain (Josh Duhamel from Las Vegas) to run it. The FBI seems eager to rid their office of Chamberlain, while the BCPD (mostly) seems glad to receive him. Chamberlain proves a ray of positive energy for the police department, and has a vastly different approach from the decorated Detective Agnew.

On the surface, a buddy cop procedural sounds like nothing new. Two officers, different viewpoints, they solve crimes, yadda yadda. It seems to me that you could write along with common procedural tropes and people would still watch because it’s on CBS. However, Gilligan, Shore, and Singer have brought something truly fresh to the genre. It’s a cop show, yes, but it’s also FUNNY! They’ve inserted laugh out loud moments along with a lot of story about two law men who are fundamentally different, and yet fundamentally the same. Agnew clearly wants to be more like Chamberlain, but his experience has taught him that he can’t be. Chamberlain obviously envies some of Agnew’s traits as well. At the core, the series is exploring two men who want desperately to be like each other, but they are the way they are.

Battle Creek has an excellent (if a bit underutilized) supporting cast. Janet McTeer, Kal Penn, Grapevine, Aubrey Dollar, and the rest of the crew added some really excellent moments. If I had one complaint with the show, it’s that this excellent supporting cast WAS underutilized. However, a pilot is not meant to flesh out supporting characters; it’s meant to set up the feel and tone of the show. With that in mind, it actually did quite a good job of including all of the supporting characters in the main story.

Out of the gate, Battle Creek seems to know what its strengths are: he odd couple element, the procedural element, the humor. Everything clicked to produce a compelling, dramatic, funny, entertaining hour of television. Is the newest Gilligan project anything like Breaking Bad? On the whole, no. It isn’t. But complex characters, dramatic stories, and well-crafted production make Battle Creek great in its own right.

If you are like me, you believe watching television should be fun. This show is fun.

Did you tune in to the Battle Creek premiere? What did you think? Are you going to stick with the show, or are you done? Let us know!

[Photo via CBS]

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