Alien Hunter Takes on a Patchouli-Drenched Crime Drama ; David Duchovny Returns with a New Police Series, and a Visit to 'X- Files'

By Egner, Jeremy | International New York Times, May 26, 2015 | Go to article overview

Alien Hunter Takes on a Patchouli-Drenched Crime Drama ; David Duchovny Returns with a New Police Series, and a Visit to 'X- Files'


Egner, Jeremy, International New York Times


The man who was (and will be) Fox Mulder has been very busy.

"I watch my daughter when she watches TV, and she never turns on a TV," David Duchovny said at a seaside lounge here. He may have spent most of the past two decades starring in long-running TV series, but he's still befuddled by how drastically things have shifted over the past few years, as hand-held devices, streaming services and binge watching have made appointment viewing seem increasingly antiquated. "I have no sense of the culture of TV watching," he said.

It's hard to blame him for not recognizing the landscape he's returning to via "Aquarius," a patchouli-drenched crime drama set in late-'60s Los Angeles.

The show, which has its debut on NBC on Thursday, stars Mr. Duchovny as a detective on the trail of Charles Manson before the Sharon Tate and LaBianca murders. It's his first top billing in a network series since he played the U.F.O.-obsessed F.B.I. agent Fox Mulder on "The X-Files," which remains his defining role. (One that he'll be returning to soon.)

"Aquarius" might be set nearly 50 years into the past, but it exemplifies the sort of forward-looking experimentation networks are undertaking as new challengers arrive in the forms of streaming services and traditional TV-watching models break down.

The series was produced by Tomorrow Studios, a licensing arrangement that, as with NBC's "Hannibal," allows the network to fill programming hours without underwriting the production costs. (The show's Thursday-night slot places Mr. Duchovny beside his once and future "X-Files" co-star Gillian Anderson, who is on "Hannibal.")

Year-round programming has become a necessity for networks, which once routinely filled summer weeknights with reruns. Networks "don't want to lose the viewer momentum in the summer," said Michael Nathanson, a media analyst for MoffettNathanson.

NBC is also experimenting with a Netflix-style episode dump, releasing all 13 episodes on NBC.com the day after the show starts. A few weeks later, it will be available in two versions -- the broadcast edition and one including coarser language and nudity -- on iTunes.

"Aquarius" opens in 1967, when a missing-teenager case involving an ex-girlfriend's daughter puts Mr. Duchovny's Sam Hodiak, a middle- aged Los Angeles cop, onto the trail of Manson, played by Gethin Anthony (Renly Baratheon to "Game of Thrones" fans). Along the way, Hodiak tries to negotiate the changing mores and seething racial unrest of 1960s Southern California. The Manson subplot is a "ticking time bomb" that adds tension to the story, Mr. Duchovny said, though he is more interested in how the Manson family murders, which will not happen in the first season of "Aquarius," altered history by recasting hippies as homicidal boogeymen. "Manson the person is not that interesting; he's just a petty criminal," he said. "But as a symbol, he's huge."

In conversation Mr. Duchovny manifests the same sardonic languor his fans have come to know over. At 54, he scans about a decade younger and is still fit enough to pull off the occasional shirtless scene. The new series comes at a busy time for Mr. Duchovny, who has lately been branching into other media. (His Twitter bio: "Dilettante.") He signed a deal to write his second novel -- his first, the mostly well-received "Holy Cow," came out in February. This month, in a development that surprised him almost as much as everyone else, he released his first record, a roots rock album titled "Hell or Highwater." (He performed on the "Today" show on the day it was released.)

The album arose from a hobby that began only a few years ago but expanded when his divorce from the actress Tea Leoni, finalized in 2014, left him with ample free time. He wrote all of the music and lyrics on the album, a Wallflowers-esque collection that vacillates between cleareyed ruminations on love and loss and wry sociocultural observations. He sings all 12 songs but hired a number of Boston musicians to play them because "I'm not a good guitar player," he said. …

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