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Series / Backstrom

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An apt description

"I don't see the worst in everyone. I see the everyone in everyone."
Lt. Everett Backstrom

Backstrom is a crime procedural, created by Hart Hanson, that premiered on Fox in 2015 and is based upon a series of mystery novels by Swedish author Leif G.W. Persson.

The show stars Rainn Wilson as Lieutenant Everett Backstrom, a Portland detective whose unapologetic jerkass tendencies leave him isolated and whose poor personal habits threaten to get him fired on medical grounds. He is in command of the Portland Bureau of Police's Special Crimes Unit and leads a dysfunctional crew to solve Portland's toughest cases.

It was originally developed for CBS for the 2013-2014 TV season, but the network passed. Fox picked the show up instead and the pilot was reshot with the role of Gravely being recast. The show was not renewed for another season.

Not to be confused with the 2020 Swedish series.

This TV show contains examples of:

  • Adaptation Name Change: minor Americanization of "Evert Bäckström."
  • Adaptational Sexuality: Gravely had originally been a lesbian in the 2012 CBS pilot. She was also hinted to be this in the original novels. She's not in the aired version.
  • The Alcoholic: Backstrom is seen drinking at all hours. He even swipes a bottle of vodka at an active crime scene.
  • All Gays are Promiscuous:
    • Valentine is gay as springtime, and flirts with any handsome dude in his general vicinity.
    • Subverted in the original CBS pilot, where Gravely was a depressed lesbian who'd just broken up with her girlfriend.
  • And Starring: Dennis Haysbert as Detective John Almond.
  • Art Shift: The original CBS pilot had a darker color palette with an almost chiaroscuro quality. The Fox series has an overall brighter look.
  • Badass Boast: Moto gets an entire firehouse to back down with one.
    Moto: Your muscles might look pretty, but mine can put you in the hospital.
  • Berserk Button: Backstrom doesn't think too kindly of anyone or anything but he's particularly vicious towards adults who don't fulfill their obligations as authority figures and allow children to do whatever they want.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The First Season Finale: Backstrom finally has evidence to start an official investigation into his father but is wracked with doubt as to whether or not it's the right thing to do. He makes peace with his mother's death and starts attending AA meetings where he admits that, having taken command of the SCU and discovered the truth about Valentine, he finally has something to live for and breaks down in tears because he doesn't know how to handle the revelation.
  • Blatant Lies: Gravely often has to ask Backstrom to lie to her when he's doing something illegal or unprofessional so that she can repeat his Exact Words if she's ever asked to testify under oath. He thinks it's a pointless exercise but humors her anyway.
  • Broken Aesop: Backstrom is ready to cut off contact with Valentine after everyone tells him how bad it is for a cop to be close with a criminal, but Backstrom balks because he thinks Valentine might be his son, after he finds for sure Valentine isn't, he's practically throwing him out the door. Then he finds out Valentine is his half brother and the matter is dropped completely. Sadly this means Valentine and Backstrom's close friendship is meaningless compared to being brothers.
  • Broken Pedestal: Gravely has a twofer in "Enemy of my Enemies". First, after meeting an environmental defense lawyer lobbying to "tax all cars into extinction", she learns that the lawyer was working with a Corrupt Corporate Executive to churn out eco-terrorists. The second comes from the bomber they've been pursuing the whole episode. Gravely insists that there must be another side to her story, and she's right : she didn't place the bomb, she hired a rent-a-cop, who died because she didn't tell him that the detonator's broadcast radius was within the blastzone.
  • Blessed with Suck: Backstrom is good at what he does because he is extremely sensitive to human nature and instinctively knows the true nature of others. It's implied that part of the reason why he drinks is to try and dull the horror of knowing just how awful people can be.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Backstrom is a barely functional addict, yet he can solve cases nobody else can.
    • Niedermayer spouts New Age niceties and is ostracized for it but he is a top notch forensics specialist.
  • Catchphrase: "I'm a..." and "I'm you..."
  • Church of Happyology: In "Takes One to Know One", the SCU has to deal with a murder at the Church of Edification, a Happyology expy.
  • Cigar Chomper: Backstrom, as seen in the page image. He largely doesn't pay attention to no smoking laws, only abstaining from smoking indoors at his office and at his doctor's office. Even then, he'll pull out a cigar the moment he steps out into the doctor's hallway.
  • Cloudcuckoolander's Minder: Gravely is this to Backstrom.
    Gravely: It's his job to solve cases. It's my job to make sure those cases can go to court.
  • Defective Detective: Backstrom has absolutely no regard for professional conduct, personal niceties, or his own health but he's still a brilliant detective.
  • Detective Mole: Arson Investigator Samantha Orland is the arsonist in "Bella."
  • Enemy Mine: As to be expected from an episode titled "Enemy of my Enemies". A strange case of an environmental defense lawyer, a Corrupt Corporate Executive, and a more... conservative minded lawyer working together to produce Western Terrorists with the purpose of destroying Public Domain projects, most notably Liberty Pipeline (a Keystone XL Expy.) The relationship goes as follows: , the left-wing lawyer hires well-meaning youths, the right-wing one trains them, and the exec produces bombs with high-tech detonators. They attack Liberty because they see it as something they all hate; The Government taking private property to build an environmental disaster.
  • Exact Words: In "Bella", when asked by a firefighter if the charge he is being arrested for is legal (it's not), Almond responds "As legal as the warrant that brought us here." A true statement since the warrant had been faked from an old one by Backstrom.
  • Expy; In "Takes One to Know One", Backstrom and Almond interview a woman who is an adherent of a religion that combines elements of Jehova's Witnesses and hardline evangelicalism.
    • The Hooded Man seems to be one to The Slender Man Mythos. More specifically, to a recent event in which a group of young girls attempted to murder a friend of theirs because they thought that if they didn't sacrifice her, Slender Man would kill their parents. A key difference seems to be that the girls in the episode want the Hooded Man to come, while the ones in Real Life were terrified of Slender.
    • The Liberty Pipeline controversy is clearly a reference to the Keystone XL pipeline, with even the same arguments for (energy independence, less reliance on foreign oil) and against it (environmental concerns and public domain) being made.
    • In "Inescapable Truth" Neidermayer draws parallels between the SCU and the victim of the week's band. The rest of the SCU agrees with the comparison (albeit with a few minor quibbles) and Backstrom uses it to bust the week's killer.
  • Face Palm: Face Cap in this instance. In "Ancient, Chinese, Secret", Backstrom covers his face with his cap and loudly groans after hearing one too many supernatural explanations for the murder he's investigating.
  • Failed a Spot Check: Backstrom knows that Almond is devoutly religious but doesn't know that Almond is also a part-time pastor.
  • Godzilla Threshold: In "Bogeyman", the situation is so serious, so desperate, that Backstrom actually prays. Moto even reminds him that he said he'd do anything to nail their guy.
  • Guyliner: Worn by Valentine as part of his haute-emo look.
  • He Cleans Up Nicely: In "Give 'Til it Hurts" the rest of the team don't even recognize Backstrom when he shows up at the charity event in a suit and tie.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Backstrom reveals when he has to investigate a death in a new age church that he has no qualms of calling it a cult, but says that's not discrimination because he hates all religion equally. Combine that with his being a giant Jerkass, and you've got a classic Hollywood Atheist.
    • It's indicated that much of this comes from having an "ex" of his abandoning her homosexual son after becoming a born-again Christian.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Backstrom disapproves of Nidermayer and Nadia being an item because he considers it to be unprofessional.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: In the first episode, Backstrom is pushing a stripper for giving the victim a gun that was sabotaged, but he never tells her that part. She eventually breaks down and admits that she gave him the gun, but says "I never knew it was broken!" Backstrom just smiles and asks "How do you know now?"
  • Iconic Outfit: Backstrom's blaze orange poncho. See the page image.
  • Invasion of the Baby Snatchers: The Hooded Man is the very embodiment of this: A terrifying cross between a child abductor and a cult leader. He works through the internet, making him completely anonymous, and the teenagers he abducts are dying to be abducted by him. One such potential abductee actually breaks down in tears at the idea that he won't choose her.
  • Insistent Terminology: Backstrom regularly uses politically incorrect language, just to needle people, even when it makes his job more difficult. When dealing with the politically connected Church of Happyology, he repeatedly calls it a "cult". He notes that he hates all religion, and would just as happily knock down their church as he would the Sistine Chapel, so it's not discrimination.
  • Interservice Rivalry: Backstrom incites a feud between the police and firefighters because of a decades old grudge. It's taken to quite dark lengths for a network show, with paramedics shocking Backstrom's heart simply to cause him pain before dumping him in a puddle in the middle of nowhere.
  • Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk: Backstrom definitely isn't hiding any gold.
  • Jurisdiction Friction: Captain Rocha of the Oxblood Indian Reservation Police doesn't appreciate the Portland Police coming onto the reservation without permission, not to mention disliking Backstrom on a personal level. The conflict climaxes in an armed stand off between the Portland and Oxblood police while the suspect of the week is more or less ignored.
  • Kavorka Man: Backstrom is an abrasive, misanthropic, overweight, smoker and drinker. He managed to attract the team's hot French civilian administrator by accident (temporarily dumbfounding him) and she continues to flirt with him.
    • His ex-fiance, who still cares for him, is played by Sarah Chalke. Backstrom, being Backstrom, interprets her past attempts to fix him as trying to control him.
    • The episode "Takes One to Know One" (which introduces said ex) has Backstrom claiming an attractive young man in the Church of Happyology is gay because he's eying the "full Backstrom package". A few seconds later, said young man reaches out to comfort his fellow church member in a rather suggestive fashion. note 
  • Kicked Upstairs: Backstrom was exiled to the Traffic Division for several years before being given command of the Special Crimes Unit. This was actually to give him all the sensitive and difficult cases nobody else wants in the hopes that the higher-ups can find an excuse to fire him.
  • Lighter and Softer: Show!Backstrom is a general misanthrope who seems to enjoy antagonizing people more than he holds any actual prejudice. Novel!Backstrom is an outright racist, sexist, homophobic oaf. Show!Backstrom is a competent investigator. Novel!Backstrom is a complete ingrate who moseys by on his ability to play the system and sheer dumb luck. Show!Backstrom is a Kavorka Man and quite aware of it. Novel!Backstrom is a severely delusional Casanova Wannabe.
  • Like Father, Like Son: Blue Backstrom demonstrates an ability to get a read on people like Everett. Unlike Everett, however, Blue uses his skills to gain favor so that he can manipulate people for his own ends while Everett is outright confrontative and uses his understanding of human nature to break his targets.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Blue Backstrom, Everett's father, plays everyone by making himself seem much more sympathetic than in Everett's stories in order to claim credit on a domestic terrorism case.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: So far, the SCU has investigated homicides, an arson, and a missing child case when, in reality, a police department the size of Portland's will have specialized departments for each. Arson is also usually within the purview of a city's fire department. The SCU also handles forensics and computer analysis in-house thanks to the inclusion of Niedermayernote  and Paquet. Almond lampshades this by saying that the SCU was specifically set up to handle a variety cases one at a time rather than juggling multiple occurrences of the same type of crime.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The episode "Ancient. Chinese. Secret" partially revolves around psychics in the Portland Chinatown, with a good amount of the episode involving the heroes having to sift through their many ridiculous eccentricities to get on with the case. This changes when they encounter a "real" psychic from China's psychic child training program, who was using his "abilities" to cheat at rigged games at a Triad casino. While it's never revealed whether or not he was the real deal or just incredibly good at gathering intel, he did have an improbable amount of insight into the case, the main characters, and just about everything else. At one point, he gives each of them personalized notes which could be generalized enough to work based on observation alone, but he goes to uncanny lengths with Backstrom and Nadia, the latter whom he gives the rather ominous message "He's still looking for you" after stating her real name. He even says that Backstrom has the same ability as him, just less advanced. We can only hope he's not psychic though, since his message to Backstrom was simply "You won't see next Christmas".
  • Mistaken for Gay: Valentine assumes Niedermayer's gay because of the cop's New Age tendencies. Niedermayer outright states that he's heterosexual but that does little to stop gay guys from coming on to him.
    • Neidermayer goes to a vigil for a transvestite and all the men immediately start eyeing him.
  • My Greatest Failure: Backstrom was the lead detective on a missing child case that was called off. Almond says that that was the moment when Backstrom started his downward spiral.
    Almond: It was Chief Cervantes who found [Backstrom] holed up in a motel in Port Orford trying to drink himself to death.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In the pilot, Backstrom makes what probably would've been ruled a good kill, if not for the fact that he panicked and tossed the perp's gun into the river with his body, prompting an investigation. To be fair, his bosses might be looking to take any solid excuse to fire him.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Captain Rocha of the Oxblood Indian Reservation Police hates Backstrom because Backstrom caught a serial killer who was killing Indians from his Reservation. Backstrom pretty much says this trope.
  • Not So Above It All: Gravely usually tries to rein in Backstrom and keeps reminding him of proper police procedure (which he ignores), but at the end of "Takes One to Know One" she's the one who suggests taking down the Church of Happyology leader in the "cruelest way possible". Because Backstrom just showed her the leader committed statutory rape.
    • Almond is normally encouraging everyone to become better versions of themselves but even he disparages Samantha Orland because it's clear that she's trying to bring the SCU in on an arson investigation to try and spread the blame around because she hasn't been making any progress.
  • Number Two: Alternates between Almond and Niedermayer.
  • Odd Friendship: Backstrom is a jaded Jerkass cop and Almond is a kind, understanding, and well respected. From what we can see they seem to be best friends as well as possibly Backstrom's only friend.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Backstrom, a man who has made no secret of his disdain for religion, resorts to joining a prayer circle in "Boogeyman", illustrating how seriously he's taking the matter.
  • Open Heart Dentistry: A legal example. In "Give Til it Hurts", a suspect's husband (who's also a lawyer) pisses Backstrom off by providing irrelevant evidence in an attempt to prove his wife's innocence, requiring a circuitous route for the truth to come out. The man defends himself by insisting that he's a tax lawyer.
  • Perma-Stubble: Episodes so far seem to have taken place three days after Backstrom's last shave.
  • Power Incontinence: A rare non-literal example. Backstrom's ex-fiancee notes that he's simply too good at empathizing with people, and it's causing him severe psychological problems. His downward spiral is implied to have started because he was unable to get out of a kidnap victim's mindset.
  • The Profiler: Backstrom. His whole method of solving cases seems to be based around putting himself in the criminal's shoes, hence his "I'm you..." Catchphrase.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Gravely, who's normally trying to reign Backstrom in, asks Backstrom to help her figure out how to properly humiliate the Church of Edification's pastor after figuring out that he committed statutory rape.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Almond gives uplifting talks to both witnesses and fellow cops, sometimes sounding like a warmer version of Joe Friday.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Backstrom believes that the SCU was put together with cops whose careers have reached a dead end.
    • Backstrom was given control of the unit solely so that Portland PD could find a reason to fire him, either from his bad behavior or from political fallout stemming from an investigation.
    • Gravely unknowingly busted someone well-connected while working undercover as a vice decoynote , and the ensuing mess caused 24 convictions to be vacated. She'd have been fired if ADA Steve Kines hadn't (unbeknownst to her) protected her from the worst of the fallout.
    • Niedermayer is permanently assigned as Backstrom's forensic liaison because none of the other crime scene techs can stand Niedermier's new-age speak.
    • According to Backstrom, Almond is burned out after decades on the job.
  • The Reveal: After several episodes of characters speculating if they're father and son, Backstrom and Valentine are revealed to be half-brothers, sharing the same father.
  • The Show of the Books: to some extent a Freestyle Version of Leif G.W. Persson's novels of the Stockholm police, but the lineage and themes of the original novels, and to a greater or lesser extent, the characters, are apparent.
  • Setting Update: the original books are set in Stockholm, Sweden; the show is in Portland, Oregon.
  • Ship Tease: An incredibly subtle one. "Bogeyman" features brief shots of Niedermayer with his arm around Nadia's shoulders. The next episode, "Ancient, Chinese, Secret", has them enter into a relationship.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Backstrom is as far towards the cynicism end of the spectrum as humanly possible with Valentine being near him. Other characters, like Niedermayer, Gravely, and Almond are all idealistic.
  • Spotting the Thread: Twice in "Enemy of My Enemies": First, he finds an eco-terrorist's hiding place because a wall of otherwise shiny new tools has a rusted old shovel on it, indicating that the newer tools are recent additions meant to hide something. Second, he finds her money and fake ID inside a roll of paper towels, reasoning that an environmentalist wouldn't use "the skin of a murdered tree" to clean up spills.
  • Squick: In-Universe. Backstrom and Valentine learn the true nature of their relationship and Valentine is properly squicked at how twisted it is: Valentine and Backstrom share the same father, Blue Backstrom. Blue had impregnated Lou, a prostitute to whom Backstrom had lost his virginity two years before Valentine's conception.
    Backstrom: [to Lou] You had sex with my father!
    Valentine: [to Backstrom] You had sex with my mother!
    Backstrom: [to Valentine] She was really hot! She still is...This is really weird.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: Valentine helps Backstrom by describing what it was like to be abducted and abused, explaining that the abductor acts out of a twisted sense of love and affection and that after a while the abductee starts to believe it as well and welcome the abuse.
    • The Hooded Man gives girls Stockholm Syndrome before he even abducts them. To the point where a girl had a breakdown because she thought he wasn't going to take her.
  • Team Dad: Almond sometimes acts as a mentor figure, not just for the team, but even some suspects and witnesses. He's a devout Christian and part time pastor. He also takes in foster children.