Dean Winters and Josh Duhamel, Vince Gilligan
CBS is selling its new midseason drama Battle Creek as being the next project from Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan. And while it's not completely untrue, it certainly may give the wrong impression.
Gilligan wrote the script for Battle Creek — which tells the story of Detective Russ Agnew (Dean Winters) and his contentious relationship with FBI AgentMilton Chamberlin (Josh Duhamel) when the duo is forced to work together on a case — and pitched it to CBS 12 years ago. In fact, he admitted during a panel at the Television Critics' Association fall previews that it's been so long since he wrote it that he doesn't even remember how he settled on Battle Creek as the setting and title for the show.
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Now, however, CBS has dusted off Gilligan's script and brought in House creator David Shore to update it and run the show. So, is it really still Gilligan's show? "They've made it exponentially better," Gilligan said at the panel. "I'm just sorry I'm not as big a part of the show as I would like to be, because of my duties on Better Call Saul. I'm proud to be a part of this. The first episode is something I loved... I'm lucky to be up here on the stage with these folks."
For his part, Shore believes that he and Gilligan share a certain sensibility, which is why Shore was attracted to the material. However, Shore made it clear that he won't be trying to mimic Gilligan or make this show the next Breaking Bad. "I think that's a fool's errand," Shore said. "House was very different from Breaking Bad. ... For me to try and replicate his voice would be foolish."
Instead, Shore pointed to ideas they shared, including writing stories that are a bit timeless. "I always want the shows to feel out of time," Shore said. "I'm very worried about current references. I feel it becomes dated quickly. Certainly, if you're writing about characters, that doesn't change. It's universal. When I read this script, it was 10 years old and it felt 30 years old — and I don't mean that in a negative way. There's a nostalgia in Vince that comes through. In a weird way, it's the core of the show. In spite of the darkness of the world there, it's a show about hope. ... With House I was exploring cynicism, and with this I was exploring optimism."
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Perhaps part of the optimism will come from the show's sense of humor, which is unusually prevalent in this hourlong drama. "It was a very funny script Vince gave me, and I want to carry that going forward," Shore said. "It's got to be grounded, it's got to be real, it's got to come from the characters. It's not a sitcom in any way, shape or form, but I'll be very proud if it's as funny as I think it is. ... You'll be scared at times, but you will have a stupid little grin on your face."
But that doesn't mean it won't be dark. In fact, Shore says Milton, who seems to have the perfect life, has a "dark inner core." Which is just fine with Duhamel. "The biggest challenge is to make this guy interesting and not so perfect and polished," Duhamel said. "It's harder to play a guy like this [if] he seems to be perfect. Nobody is that perfect. There are cracks in the façade that I saw in the original script. There's a reason why he ended up in Battle Creek."
And perhaps those flaws will be what ultimately keep Milt and Russ together as partners. "Conflict will always be there," Shore said. "There will always be friction. But Russ has to know that he is a better cop and gets better results with Milton by his side."
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