Although Vince Gilligan did technically write the pilot script — which tells the story of Detective Russ Agnew (Dean Winters) and his contentious relationship with FBI Agent Milton Chamberlin (Josh Duhamel) when the duo is forced to work together in the titular Michigan town — the closest this show comes to Breaking Bad is the second episode's homage to its creator, as the duo investigates, of all things, a maple syrup cartel.
Instead, Battle Creek will feel more familiar to fans of fellow executive producer David Shore's previous creation: Fox's medical procedural drama House. Though Shore dusted off Gilligan's 12-year-old script and will handle primary showrunner responsibilities, he claims the odd-couple magic of this show was in Gilligan's original pilot. "I read it and fell in love with these two characters," Shore tells TVGuide.com. "I just hadn't seen a cop show like this, with two cops who embodied such opposing viewpoints on the world. I wanted to see them work together."
Russ is the angry Battle Creek native who is fed up with the underfunding of his department. (In the opening sequence, his Taser fails to work, which leaves him with a black eye.) However, when Milt blows into town with all of his federal money, Russ doesn't view him as a savior. Instead, Russ becomes obsessed with figuring out why a "supercop" like Milt would be banished to a small satellite office in Battle Creek.
"There's nothing worse than being knocked off as the kingpin," Winters says. "When he comes in, it's crickets over at my desk. I'm desperately trying to figure out why he's here. [Milt] is too perfect a package. This is a town that I love, and there's a girl that I have a crush on. All of these things are being threatened by a guy I've never come into contact with before. If it's too good to be true, it probably is."
Indeed, underneath his charming façade, Milt has plenty to hide. "Milt is a guy with deep secrets that he does not feel comfortable sharing with anybody for reasons that will become slightly more clear," Shore says. "And at the same time, he wants to be this person that doesn't lie and spreads positivity. He is that person, but he's a very flawed version of that person. He's a version of that person who has a deep, dark lie. So, can he be that positive person while he's carrying that burden is a fundamental question."
Adds Duhamel: "Can you outrun your past? Can a leopard change his spots? Milt believes he can. All these conversations about right and wrong and these things that he preaches, he really does believe this. It's not just a front to keep everybody away. But I don't think you can outrun your past. The truth always comes out in the end. As much as Milt tries to reject that idea, he finds out that he can't and eventually has to face it."
Despite Milt's polished exterior, he quickly realizes that he needs to embrace Russ' "shoot first and ask questions later" roughness in order to fit in with the rest of the squad, which includes Commander Guziewicz (Janet McTeer), Detectives Fontanelle White (Kal Penn) and Aaron Funkhauser (Edward Fordham Jr.), and office manager Holly Dale (Aubrey Dollar). "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer," Duhamel says. "I think he knows right off the bat that he needs Russ on his team. The other [detectives] buy into his shtick. He just wants to be accepted in this town, to be liked. He's a guy who probably didn't care about that stuff before, but whatever has happened has changed him forever. But is this a conscious effort to make people like him or does he really have this desire for people to accept him?"
It's in that need for acceptance that Russ and Milt are the most alike, according to Shore. "They need friends," he says. "They both have giant holes in their social lives, it's quite apparent. They both need connection, but they're both not very good at it."
But that friendship will be hard to come by. "I hate catchphrases. I think they tend to oversimplify everything, but 'Not all cops are buddies,' I think, is a good one," Shore says of Battle Creek's tagline. "This is a buddy cop show where one of them doesn't like the other and they have complicated feelings for each other."
In fact, Shore intends to keep the duo at odds for the length of the series. "One of the mantras of House was, 'Nobody changes,'" Shore says. "It's just true human nature. On a deep, unconscious level — and I think Milt's already there, to a certain extent — they know they need each other. But they're never going to acknowledge that. That's the most difficult thing in the world.
"They're always going to have that conflict, that difficulty in their relationship," Shore continues. "That's the fight. It will get a little better at times — tiny little baby steps — and every now and again, we'll get a glimpse of their realization that they need each other. They'll be working towards it. That's the long, long arc of the series, but it's not like in Season 2 they're going to just be pals."
Battle Creek premieres Sunday at 10/9c on CBS.
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