‘Aquarius’ the Age of Charles Manson

AquariusPremiering Thursday, on NBC,  is  Aquarius (as in the Age of). Set in the year of the Summer of Love, Charles Manson has his part. Manson is cultural shorthand for a specific kind of boogeyman, a leader of death, and a lasting exemplar of what went wrong with the 1960’s.

Aquarius is set in the late 1967, early 1968. Aquarius has an old-school, corrupt police force that is feeling the social upheaval on the rise, the antiwar and black militant movements, youth counterculture and gay rights. Included is the strengthening of a California Republican, with an influential connection, that got Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan elected.

Sam Hodiak (played by David Duchovny), L.A. homicide detective, is a veteran from World War II and an alcoholic. Divorce is approaching and his son (played by Chris Sheffield) has gone AWOL from Vietnam.

The Detective gets a distressed call from a previous romance, Grace Karn ( played by Michaela McManus) who is the wife of a Republican operative and attorney (played by Brian F. O’Bryrne). The couple has a daughter, Emma a teenager, (played by Emma Dumont) who ran away. Grace wants Hodiak to find Emma, quietly so it will not hurt her husband’s place in society.


Hodiak gets help from undercover cop, Brian Shafe (played by Grey Damon), believing that Emma is involved with drugs and the Summer of Love’s call of inspiration. Shafe keeps his wits about him as colleagues give him a hard time for not being able to penetrate the Sunset Strip drug trade. However, it does not take Shafe long to guide Hodiak to Charles Manson’s commune. Emma is there tripping and has been initiated into the “family” sexually.

John McNamara, Aquarius’ creator had conceptualized Gethin Anthony (played by Renly Baratheon Game of Thrones) to play Manson. McNamara wants Manson to be a tyrant and a deranged clown, with mean-spirited women followers under his psychosexual spell, who break laws for him.

For the most part, Manson is like any other guy who likes to play his guitar for an audience around a campfire. Here there will be a guest appearance from Mad Men.

Manson has erratic tendencies to physically and sexually offend men and women. A true villain for the show. McNamara says it is to the actor’s credit that he is able to portray a believable Manson beneath all the quasi-religious stuff that turns him into a caricature.

The violence in Aquarius is not excessive, however, it could be a jolt to the network audience. NBC is making an attempt to provide the viewers what they want in a TV show.


The broadcast premiere is Thursday night, on NBC at 9 p.m. The series continues on several paths. There are family relations that are complicated, there are sexual complexities and cases that will come and go, including a the murder of Ramon Novarro, the homicide of police partners, and a priest who was embezzling from the church. The show, making Manson a character in the middle of a typical 1960’s cop show, was a gutsy choice, says NBC.

The Manson story and subplots continue sometimes in the forefront and other times in the background, throughout all 13 episodes. NBC will make all the episodes available via Netflix, Friday. This is NBC’s attempt to reach a fragmented audience. The next few weeks will show NBC executives if this was an ingenious idea or a devaluing of premiere programming inventory.

Aquarius premieres Thursday, May 28 at 9 p.m. EST on NBC. All 13 episodes will be available on the NBC mobile app and VOD immediately following the premiere. Friday, they will be available on Netflix.

By Jeanette Smith


Washington Post: NBC’s ‘Aquarius:’
L.A. Times: ‘Aquarius’ reveals flipside of summer of love
A.V. Club: Review: NBC’s Aquarius

Photos courtesy of:
SS&SS’ Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Jimmy Emerson, DVM’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Gage Skidmore’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Kerry Lennert’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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