NBC's 'Aquarius' feeling its age

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For brush-cut David Duchovny, as a detective in "Aquarius," the truth is out there, in the weird, dark Los Angeles of the 1960s.

* AQUARIUS. 9 p.m. Thursday, NBC10.

GRATEFUL as I am that Megan Draper, of "Mad Men," survived the fan conspiracy that would have added her to the list of Charlie Manson's victims, I'd have been even more so not to have to think about Manson ever again.

NBC had other ideas.

Its new summer series, the set-in-1967 "Aquarius," features Manson (Gethin Anthony, "Game of Thrones") in a sluggish, largely fictional story involving a Republican power player (Brian F. O'Byrne); his missing daughter, Emma (Emma Dumont, "Bunheads"); and the man who agrees to look for her, a Los Angeles police detective (David Duchovny, "The X-Files") named Sam Hodiak.

Which, wouldn't you know, rhymes with "zodiac."

Duchovny, who's easily the best reason to watch "Aquarius," plays a World War II veteran who's cooler than his brush cut might indicate yet still resisting the changes around him (including the then-new Miranda warnings).

Amused exasperation is a good look for Duchovny, and while I abandoned him to "Californication" early on, he was interesting enough here to keep me watching for several more episodes than I would have otherwise.

Pairing Hodiak with a young undercover cop (Grey Damon), "Aquarius" touches, not very subtly, on issues of race, gender and sexual preference while pursuing a story involving Manson that's complicated but not actually as compelling as some of the lesser subplots.

It's hard not to wonder sometimes if Hollywood's fascination with the '60s, beyond the music, doesn't have something to do with making the industry feel better about its own inequities by reminding us how much worse women, minorities and gays had it back then.

Manson, with his outsized dreams of stardom and manipulation of both men and women, seems at least as annoying as he is menacing. Knowing where all this is leading - the story takes place two years before the Tate-LaBianca murders - doesn't help.

But there is a certain justice in for once having the cop, not the cult leader, be the one with charisma.

Taking a cue from its streaming competition, NBC will, after Thursday's two-hour premiere, release all 13 episodes on NBC.com, its app and other on-demand platforms for four weeks, while continuing to air one episode a week on the network.

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For some people - and you know who you are - this is Bee Week.

If you'd like to join a fan base that includes "Scandal" creator Shonda Rhimes (who worked a spelling bee into a recent episode and for the past 10 years has participated in the bee live-blog at throwingthings.blogspot.com), you can catch all the excitement of the live championship rounds of the 88th annual National Spelling Bee at 8 p.m. tomorrow on ESPN.

If you're hard-core, you're already planning your day around the semifinals, scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. on ESPN2.

The kids are great, the words are hard, and, no, I'm not kidding about the excitement.


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