TV Preview: CBS serving up a bowl full of Vince Gilligan in ‘Battle Creek’
“Battle Creek,” a new cop drama coming to CBS, may have gotten the green light after bumping around in development limbo for more than a decade because its creator, Vince Gilligan, is on a hot streak.
And it may be called “Battle Creek” because Gilligan, known for “Breaking Bad” and the much-anticipated prequel, “Better Call Saul,” ate a lot of Kellogg’s cereal from the Michigan town as a kid. The origin story is fuzzy after all this time, Gilligan has said.
But what’s definitive about “Battle Creek,” executive producer David Shore said, is its sharp, Gilligan-influenced tone, flashes of black comedy and non-network sensibilities. The series is slated to premiere March 1.
“There will be big crimes and real stakes but with small-town personal angles and a sense of humor,” said Shore, Emmy-winning creator of “House.” “We’ve said that if a story could appear on ‘CSI’ or ‘Law & Order,’ then we won’t tell it.”
The Battle Creek police force investigates an attempted hit on a colorful local mayor, who bears a striking resemblance to Toronto’s Rob Ford, for instance. There’s a criminal cartel that deals in purloined maple syrup instead of cocaine or meth, and a costumed mascot (not Tony the Tiger) gets killed at the annual Cereal Festival. There are also the requisite arsons, kidnappings and multiple murders.
It’s not trying to be a cable show in terms of amped-up violence or gore, Shore said, but aims to upend the traditional police procedural with quirky characters and situations. Read: snark factor.
CBS executives, with Entertainment Chairman Nina Tassler as a longtime champion of the project, decided to revive Gilligan’s 12-year-old “Battle Creek” script for the 2014-15 lineup. As a potential boost and vote of confidence, they’ve scheduled it in the plum post-"Good Wife” spot at 10 p.m. Sundays.
The network will tout the series as coming “from the creator of ‘Breaking Bad,’” even though Gilligan is committed to “Better Call Saul” and hasn’t been involved day to day in the cop drama’s 13 episodes.
Production studio Sony, where Gilligan and Shore have deals, played matchmaker between the TV veterans, citing their similar taste in material. That’s how Shore has ended up raising the child that Gilligan birthed, as he put it.
Shore tweaked the pilot with updates, though he said the world Gilligan created had a timeless quality that could’ve been produced in the 1950s or 20 years from now with equal effect. Bryan Singer directed the first episode.
Like Shore, several cast members are returning to series TV with “Battle Creek.” Josh Duhamel hasn’t appeared regularly in a show since “Las Vegas,” nor has costar Dean Winters since “30 Rock.”
The actors, part of an ensemble that includes Kal Penn and Oscar nominee Janet McTeer, play polar-opposite law enforcers who end up working together when Special Agent Milt Chamberlain (Duhamel) sets up an FBI field office across the hall from the bare bones Battle Creek PD.
City Det. Russ Agnew (Winters) and his understaffed department have been squeaking by with shoddy equipment and limited resources. When the cavalry comes, in the form of a deep-pocketed fed with charisma to burn, it’s a godsend. Or is it a mixed blessing?
Agnew, a gruff street cop whose suits aren’t tailored and shoes aren’t cobbled, dislikes Chamberlain immediately. More important, he’s suspicious about why this big gun landed in dinky little Battle Creek.
“He looks like a gold medal rower from Yale,” Winters said of his antagonist. “The way he gets things done, the way people swoon at his feet, represents everything my character hates. So it’s a buddy cop show where the lead cops are partners, but they’re not buddies.”
Chamberlain is so perfect he’s almost a caricature, following the letter of the law and preaching trust in humanity. But all is not what it seems, Duhamel said.
“It’s a façade covering up a pretty sordid past,” Duhamel said. “He’s overcompensating.”
But he’s so convincing, at least initially, that he has a squad full of jaded cops eating out of his hand. It can’t hurt that he’s brought a fat Rolodex, sophisticated forensics teams and James Bond-esque technology to a department that can’t afford working Tasers.
Of course, Agnew is not buying the act, and that’s why Chamberlain requests him as a partner, exercising the “keep your enemies closer” rule, Duhamel said. It’s no surprise, though, that Chamberlain is “always in the right place at the right time, always gets the credit and his picture in the paper,” Duhamel said. “And Russ gets a broken nose.”
Both actors said they were drawn to that slightly tart flavor that they’ve found missing on mainstream cop shows.
“If you bash people over the head for 43 minutes with a drama bat, you’ll knock them out,” Winters said. “A little sarcasm is refreshing.”
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