January 23, 2015

Backstrom offends Indians, others

Our meanest antihero yet: How Fox’s “Backstrom” deliberately pushes p.c. buttons

Rainn Wilson stars in this strange comedy about a misanthropic detective whose life is in shambles

By Sonia Saraiya
The cold open of the first episode of “Backstrom” is basically a setup for a racist joke. You could argue that the joke is there in order to be ridiculed—that it’s so ludicrously offensive that it’s being used to make a point instead of to get laughs. You could also argue that it is not racist so much an example of religious discrimination—the joke is at the expense of the protagonist’s doctor, Dev, who is Hindu. Dr. Dev, played by Rizwan Manji, is inquiring after detective Everett Backstrom’s health, because he’s one bad physical away from being reassigned. “If you Hindus are so smart, how come 98 percent of you live at the dump?” Backstrom retorts, clearly taken with his own cleverness. His doctor is unamused, but takes it in stride. Of course he takes it stride—he’s not really given much else of a choice, is he? He’s the bit part next to Rainn Wilson’s first billing; the script demands that he be tolerant of Backstrom’s bitching, because that’s how the audience will learn that Backstrom’s a good guy underneath all that irascibility.

Undeterred, Backstrom—and “Backstrom”—keeps going. “I arrested a white supremacist for killing six Indians,” he emphasizes to the doctor, broadly calling attention to how he’s not a racist. “Not tandoori Indians, like you, but you know, the [wah-wah-wah] Geronimo kind.” And then he finishes with a flourish: “At the press conference, I sang ‘one little, two little, three little Indians…’” Backstrom is only in the doctor’s office for two minutes. He drops another “Hindu,” grabs a prescription to “make a friend,” and in a parting shot, tells his doctor that “Dev is a girl’s name.” And then 90 seconds later, he shows up to his crime scene, griping about his unconventional prescription: “My doctor’s a Hindu. I’m lucky he didn’t make me be friends with a cow.”

It does not abate. Backstrom’s angle changes—sometimes he’s sexist, sometimes he’s slut-shaming, sometimes he’s complaining about Chinese immigrants taking over America. (In one particularly shocking moment, he investigates an illegal gambling outfit, and when he spots a beautiful woman working there, he blusters that the warrant authorizes them to conduct strip-searches.) But this is both Backstrom and “Backstrom”—mean-spirited, offensive and weirdly proud of it.
Comment:  I watched the first episode. The critics and I agree: Backstrom isn't good.

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