AQUARIUS 1969 – America on the Brink of a Nervous Breakdown

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by Lew Ritter

“We didn’t start the fire – The World ‘s been burning since the world’s been turning.”- Billy Joel

Are you tired of the endless mind numbing headlines about corrupt “say anything to get elected politicians.”, allegations of police brutality , overseas events that seemed to be spinning out of control and a world that seems to be collapsing around us? Need a break?

Well, let’s revisit a more tranquil place around fifty years or so in the past America, in the 1960’s. It was called the “Era of Peace and Love. “ However, in reality, the 1960’s was a chaotic time when America felt like it was falling apart due to strained race relations, student unrest and foreign wars without end.

In short, America was on the verge of having a nervous breakdown. Surprised?

The Age of Aquarius was a song made famous by the Broadway play Hair and The Fifth Dimension, a singing group of the era. “Harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust abound,” goes one of the lyrics of the song.

Aquarius the TV series is a realistic 1960’s cop drama about LAPD detective Sam Hodiak and the other men and occasional women of the L.A. P.D. The show opens with a caveat that it is a mixture of real and fictional events. Its story lines are inspired by actual persons and events and incorporated into a weekly dramatic series. If it completes its five year run, the series arc will take the show into the early seventies.

The show centers around David Duchovny as Sam Hodiak, a no-nonsense LAPD detective. His partner is an undercover narcotics officer named Brian Shafe. Rounding out the main characters was a young female detective named Charmaine who is trying to prove that woman can be effective police officers, and not just clean coffee pots in the back room.

Season One opened with the abduction of Emma Karn, an impressionable young teenage girl. Her father is an influential politician, who eventually joined the Nixon administration. Hodiak discovers that the missing girl has been abducted by a charismatic sociopath named Charles Manson. Manson is an ex-con and small time crook who recruited a group of impressionable young followers into becoming part of his ‘Family.” They were mainly a group of ragtag hippies who follow Manson in their deluded quest for drugs, sex, and rock-and-roll.

Season One dealt largely with the development of Manson from small time crook into the charismatic sociopath that would eventually lead his “Family” into committing the heinous Tate -LoBianca murders that shook America in the summer of 1969. He convinced his followers to brutally kill several people including the beautiful actress Sharon Tate. Other prominent subplots featured Hodiak ‘s son deserting the army and stealing documents about America’s involvement with the Vietnam war. They could be a version of the infamous Pentagon Papers. They were the Wiki-Leaks of the day.

Season Two continues the Manson story. Every episode of season two opens with a flash forward scene leading up to the infamous Tate- Lobianca murders. To me, Season Two is more interesting because it portrays events of the Sixties such as the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, and the Black Panthers, a radical Black anti-police group with Revolutionary rhetoric.

The Good:

The time period. The show is faithful to the attitudes and technology of the 1960’s. Cops using rotary telephones, cars have no GPS, and not a copy of Pokemon or a computer in site.

David Duchovny devours the role of Hodiak. He is a no – nonsense cop whose unorthodox methods would not fit into today’s world. Despite the close cropped hair and the air, he still has the same dry manner and sense of humor about the world, as his more famous creation- Fox Mulder.

Emma Dumont as the runaway girl. She brings a sense of innocence to her role of Emma. A lost soul, she seems to be morphing into the leader of the Manson girls.

Gaius Charles as Bunchy Carter. He had a short lived role on Grey’s Anatomy. However it must not have impressed many people because he lasted about a year. However, on Aquarius, he makes a powerful impression as ‘Bunchy’ Carter, the real life Black Panther leader in L.A. His raw language is shocking, powerful and uncensored. He is the antagonist and occasional ally of Hodiak as he investigates several murders in L.A.

Language- It is very brave show that uses language that is rather blunt and typical of the times. The creators of the show do not soft pedal some of the racial bigotry of the times. Terms are tossed into the dialogue that would be unacceptable in today’s Politically Correct atmosphere.

The Bad:

The show rarely utilizes the music of the era. Powerful musical voices such as Janis Joplin and Jefferson Airplane on the soundtrack would have added another level to the show’s authenticity.

A recent episode lurched into conspiracy theory. Ken Karns, Emma’s father, is eager to be recruited by the Nixon campaign. They seem desperate to stop Robert Kennedy from running against Nixon in the Fall of 10968. In the final scene of a recent episode, Kennedy is lead into the kitchen of the hotel in which he holds his victory rally. In the kitchen, he encounters Sirhan Sirhan the crazed Palestinian native who assassinates him. Karns is seen among in the kitchen hidden by the victory celebrants. It seemed to hint that a Nixon operative was behind the Kennedy Assassination.

Shafe, Hodiak’s partner. He is bland and is supposed to be the hippie undercover cop, but he wears his hair short and would not infiltrate any hippie groups that I was aware of growing up in the 1960’s. He does have a mixed marriage to an African-American wife who works for the Black Panthers. This allows Hodiak and Shafe to interact with Bunchy Carter and the Panthers in some episodes.

Manson as played by Gethin Anthony. He plays Manson as a smooth hustler with some undertones of below the surface evil. Perhaps the creators of the show felt that a more realistic portrayal of Manson would scare away viewers

Conclusion:

By the end of Season One, I felt I had seen enough of the Manson story. It seemed to have worn out its welcome. In Season two, each episode begins with a flash-forward to the horrendous murder of Sharon Tate and her friends. Manson is enamored with Terry Melcher, a leading record producer of the era. Manson wanted to become a famous rock star. Melcher realized that Manson had little talent as a Rock Star. Apparently, the Tate- LoBianca murders was Manson’s attempt to get revenge on Melcher’s rejection of his talent.

However, as Season Two races toward its season conclusion, the show has grown more compelling by adding subjects like Shafe’s interracial marriage, conflicts with the Panthers, and Charmaine’s attempt to infiltrate the S.D.S , a campus radical group. Overall, though, Aquarius is uneven, trying to reel in viewers by publicizing  the Manson angle but then having to bring in other storylines to keep us coming.


Lew Ritter is a frequent contributor to TVWriter™. An aspiring TV and film writer, he was a recent Second Rounder in the Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition