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Originally published Friday, January 17, 2014 at 9:59 AM

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Fox picks up Rainn Wilson’s new series, ‘Backstrom’

Rainn Wilson’s new crime drama “Backstrom” will appear in the fall on Fox, which has ordered 13 episodes. Wilson stars as a hard-to-love Portland detective.


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It seems like every other day now we hear about another pilot getting picked up for the fall TV season. Some of them sound great. Some of them ... eh, not so much.

But the recent announcement that Rainn Wilson’s pilot “Backstrom” has been picked up by Fox is some of the more exciting TV news of late. The crime drama from “Bones” creator Hart Hanson was originally picked up by CBS early last year, but it never became a series. Fox has stepped in, giving the show a 13-episode order. No premiere date has been announced.

Wilson, who grew up in Lake Forest Park and graduated from the University of Washington, posted a glimpse of the show on his Twitter account back in September. It appears to follow many of the standard network television tropes we’re seeing more and more of these days:

1. It’s based on something foreign (Swedish writer Leif G.W. Persson’s book series).

2. It’s about an irascible man whom everyone puts up with because he’s good at his job (see: Draper, White, House). In this case, it’s Wilson’s Detective Everett Backstrom, who leads his Serious Crimes Unit through Portland’s most sensitive cases.

3. It’s only been picked up for 13 episodes, half of a typical network order, which seems more and more the way networks prefer to do business (“Hostages,” “Intelligence” and “Sleepy Hollow” are all following the miniseries pattern this year).

Despite all the ways this seems like an ordinary procedural, it looks good to turn into something more entertaining. Here’s why:

1. Rainn Wilson is a treasure. Wilson made a name for himself on NBC’s “The Office” as beet-farming, “Battlestar Galactica”-loving Dwight Schrute. Even in the “Backstrom” clip, in which he’s lost the nerdy glasses, has some scruffy facial hair and dresses a lot better, it’s hard to not think of Dwight. Maybe that’s because the humanity and comedic instincts Wilson brought to that character are still very much at play here — and that’s a good thing. Most procedurals are best when they let comedy slip in amid all the drama. And Wilson should infuse Detective Backstrom with plenty of deadpan humor.

2. It’s not on CBS. It’s a good thing this show landed where it did. Instead of being buried amid the glut of mediocre procedurals on CBS, this show will air on Fox, home to successful misanthropes like Gregory House and Jack Bauer. In fact, Fox was home to one of the best new dramas of 2013, a show that managed to stay great and interesting despite being a procedural of sorts: “Sleepy Hollow.”

3. Two words: Mamie Gummer. Would it surprise you to learn that Meryl Streep’s daughter is a very good and compelling actress? Gummer had a starring role in a CW pilot last year (“Emily Owens, M.D.”) that failed to get picked up for a second season. That was a shame, because the few times we’ve seen her elsewhere on TV (like as a seemingly ditsy lawyer on “The Good Wife”), we’ve wanted more. So we’re thrilled to see she’ll star opposite Wilson as an openly gay detective. Honestly, we expected this character to read like many of the other female roles on these types of shows; a serious foil for the difficult man’s antics, someone who’s there to react but has little to say themselves. But, much like “Sleepy Hollow’s” Abbie, it sounds like Gummer’s character will actually be interesting on her own. What a concept!

Look for “Backstrom” on Fox this fall.



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