Aquarius Thursdays, 9 p.m., NBC; Season 1 available May 28 at nbc.com.
Aquarius is to Charles Manson what Hannibal is to Hannibal Lecter: a dark NBC drama about the early days of a famous killer. Although Lecter is fictional and Manson is real, Aquarius is about as historically accurate as Hannibal, with a disclaimer opening each episode noting that characters, events and locations have been fictionalized. The show takes place in 1967, and the main character isn’t Manson (Gethin Anthony) but LA police detective Sam Hodiak (David Duchovny), a straitlaced World War II veteran who teams up with young partner Brian Shafe (Grey Damon) to track Manson as he attracts his first followers. Shafe is hip to the counterculture, while Hodiak is a total square, and their familiar buddy-cop dynamic anchors the series.
Too much about Aquarius is boilerplate cop-drama material; by the second episode, Shafe and Hodiak are investigating other cases while the Manson plot plays out over the long term. Duchovny retains some of his sarcastic charm as Hodiak, but he’s not the ideal actor to play the old-fashioned lawman, even one with demons of his own. At least Hodiak has a few dimensions to him; the show’s version of Manson is a toothless caricature, less menacing the more depraved he acts. And the vision of the period is primarily driven by a wall-to-wall “popular hits of the ’60s” soundtrack. In an unexpected move, NBC is making all 13 episodes of the show available online, Netflix-style, after the premiere airs, but bingeing on a drama this bland would probably only make its shortcomings more obvious.