Recognize the guy from the All State Insurance commercials, the “Mayhem” guy? Dean Winters is his name, a working actor in many television shows. Winter played the co-lead in this one hour comedy-drama that debuted in 2015.
Battle Creek lasted all of 13 episodes before being buried in the failed TV show graveyard.
The show reminded me of Picket Fences and Northern Exposure, hour-long dramas that had quirky characters and a big dose of offbeat humor. These two shows ran for multiple seasons, but network television has changed a lot since then, the patience for a show to find an audience is brief. Nowadays, shows with subtle and slow-building character dynamics, are on streaming services or cable.
The premise of Battle Creek was a police force in the financially strapped real city of Battle Creek, Michigan. It was assumed that the city was in decline as a rust-belt community that had fallen on hard times. The cereal capital of the world. The premise includes an FBI agent working as a liaison to the department who besides being incredibly handsome and charismatic, has access to the best equipment money can buy.
The FBI agent, Milt Chamberlain, is teamed up with the cynical and complaining detective Russ Agnew. The great contrast in personality and investigative methodology is the crux of the show. Chamberlain’s backstory gradually comes to light, why a seemingly emerging star is assigned to a backwater post.
The police department is populated with a diverse group of character types. They are quirky, but not for the easy jokes, they just bring their various character pallets to the detective room. One of the detectives is played by Kal Penn, who you might recognize from the Harold & Kumar film series. Janet McTeer played the world-weary supervisor of the detectives, who has her own interesting life. In one episode there is a fire at her house, and the list of suspects reveals that she is a serial dater who drops her many boyfriends for no apparent reason.
Unfortunately, the show did not really get to develop the characters sufficiently to build stories around them. There was a subplot of a never realized romance between Agnew and office manager Holly Dale.
The show was developed by Vince Gilligan, best known for Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul. Producer Russel Friend also produced the series House, but they could not work their magic here.
Guests stars like Candice Bergen, who shows up as Agnew’s mother, revealing some explanation of his current personality. Payton Oswalt portrayed Battle Creek’s mayor, in a story centered on a Breakfast Day celebration, where a mascot was shot while stepping in front of the mayor.
It is unfortunate that more viewers did not find the show to enjoy it and to give it more time to develop. If you get a chance to see it on a streaming service, indulge yourself.