Aquarius - The Complete First Season (Blu-Ray) : Release Year - 2015

Overall Rating : 5/10

David Duchovny (The X Files (TV) )
Gethin Anthony
Emma Dumont (Bunheads (TV) )
Claire Holt (The Originals (TV) )
Grey Damon (Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters)

Supplied By : Anchor Bay Entertainment

Film Reviewed By : Rick L. Blalock

Date Reviewed : September. 13, 2015


Los Angeles, 1967. Welcome to the Summer of Love. Aquarius stars David Duchovny (he X Files;alifornication as Sam Hodiak, a seasoned homicide detective whose investigations dovetail with the activities of real-life cult leader Charles Manson in the years before he masterminded the most notorious killings of a generation, the Tate-LaBianca murders. A small-time but charismatic leader with big plans, Manson has begun to build up his amily recruiting vulnerable young men and women to join his cause. Teaming up with a young cop who will help him infiltrate Manson circle, Hodiak is forced to see things through the questioning eyes of someone who came of age amongst the current anti-establishment counterculture.
Taking place sometime in 1966, 3 years prior to the infamous Tate-Labianca murders(which occurred consecutively on August 9th and 10, of 1969), AQUARIUS tells the fictitious tale of a Homicide Detective named Sam Hodiak, and his colleagues. It all kicks off when the teenage daughter of a prominent California Lawyer, Ken Karn, runs away. With his daughter Emma, now out of sight, Ken and his wife, Grace, put Hodiak on the case. But, as if finding the missing daughter of an important man, wasn't enough. It is revealed that Sam, has even further ties with the Karns, in that _ and himself were once old flames. In the meantime, the focus is brought upon Emma, whom after a party, is whisked away when she comes in contact with some individuals at a party. They eventually take her to a commune, that they have dubbed "The Spiral Staircase". It is here that she meets a very enigmatic man named Charles Manson. Manson, is all about free love, and life, and as such, serves as sort of a leader to the wayward teens, and persons who come to him. He schools them in his ways, and his prophecies about the future, and with persuasion tactics, they believe every word. With the help of a young undercover named Brian Shaffe, and a young Policewoman, Charmain Tull, Hodiak is eventually able to bring Emma home to her parents. However, when old habits resurface, Emma is able to slip out again - only this time, things become much more difficult, as Charlie tightens his grip. Charlie, an aspiring Musician and Songwriter, hopes to use Karn's political influence for his personal gain. And to do so, he holds not only Emma over the Lawyer's head, but also a few secrets, that Karn has kept hidden for years. One's that could spell disaster for his career. Meanwhile, rechristening Emma as "Cherry Pop(or simply, "Cherry", for short), she becomes essentially his go-to girl, alongside one Susan Atkins(aka Sadie, or Sadie Mae Glutz), and gels with her new "family". Elsewhere, the flame still burns when the two former lovers reignite a love affair behind Ken Karn's back, thus complicating not only the case of Emma, but other cases, which Hodiak has been assigned. The season comes to an end, as many things collide. Old secrets continue to linger, threating everything for both Ken and his business partner, Hal, Hodiak's son, Walt, is arrested for going AWOL in Vietnam, and Charlie and his family is strain by jealous, before being finally reconvening, as a baby is brought into the fold.

If you think that my above description for the first season for the John McNamara created series, AQUARIUS, is a little all over the place, you would be right. However, as is, it serves as an accurate description of just how the inaugural season for this crime drama plays out. Only partially based on real people and real events, the real life of Charles Manson and his followers are at the center of a central plot, which is supported by the daily ongoings of a California investigative unit, more so, a seasoned Homicide Detective named Samson Hodiak.

Over the years, I have been fascinated by the Manson family, their crimes, and just what drove them to commit such vicious acts. They were both senseless and unfathomable. Since the events in 1969 and the subsequent trails, there have been a number of films, and documentaries on the case - including a documentary by Robert Hendrickson, and Laurence Merrick, which was shot on sight with the family at Spahn Ranch in 1973, after the Tate-abianca murders (Although the real documentary was filmed after the 1969 murders, the show uses the fact as part of its present setting. In the show, Robert Hendrickson, and Laurence Merrick are represented in a composite character, who sort of merges, both they and record producer, Terry Melcher(I guess). As this character, whose name is Elliot Hillman, is both a Producer and documentary filmmaker. I have seen almost everything. So when knew of AQUARIUS came about, I was intrigued. Not so much in that it would be yet another retelling of the family, and their crimes, but that the show would make it, initially about the years leading to the 1969 crimes that would make Manson and his followers infamous, I felt that before even seeing the show that it had potential to be something special. But only if, Manson and his "family" were accurately portrayed.

But this is where AQUARIUS takes a rather odd turn. Instead of basing its Charles Manson on the real guy(you know the guy we have ALL this factual information on?), the show opts instead to make Charles Manson, a character - using only the mere shell of who the real man is. So yes, there are still factual elements there. Here, Charlie is still the free loving, hippie, delusional type, who spews non-sense. And yes, his followers still, steal for the good of the "family", and believe that Charles Manson is Jesus. There are still those things, and little hints of crazy. But it is when the show decides to alter things about facts in the life of Charles Manson and his family of followers, that things get weird. Sometimes cheesy even. It's just weird. Sometimes it works, but there are a lot of times that things venture into head shaking/scratching material. I guess we should start with the obvious that the actor, Gethin Anthony, who has been hired to play Charles Manson, looks nothing like the man. Not at all. Anthony, however does his best to embody the mind and spirit of Manson, but often times, it isn't enough. And going back to the appearance thing, I had to remind myself on several occasions that he was supposed to be Manson. During certain scenes, i'd think to myself, "Who is that?", and then it hit me. "Oh yeah, that's supposed to be Manson. Yeah ok" That is just how much Anthony blends in with the other male family members. There are times where he just doesn't stand out from the crowd. Something tells me, had we met him back in the day, 'ol Charlie would stand out loud and proud, because remember, according to the family members, he has this Jesus Christ-like" aura. However, it's not just the appearance thing that confuses things - it's also what they add into Manson's life. Those things which are fictional. So, I guess to further dramatize things, they bring into light Charles' mother. In real life, Charlie never really had a relationship with his mother. However, in AQUARIUS, she is alive and well and comes into the picture. And speaking of pictures, she tries to warm Charlie's heart by bringing to him, the last picture taken of the two during his childhood. Even in real life, the info about Charles' childhood is very limited, which I think that, because we know very little, it makes him more mysterious. So with the show, here, creating a fictitious mother and a subsequently fictitious, relationship with said mother, it just comes across as extremely sappy. Now, I understand that this is "just a TV show", and that Charles Manson is just a character here. But the main problem here is that Charles Manson is a real person - a very well known person at that. And such elements make things hard to believe at times. Other things that boggle are of course the secrets of Ken Karn. Charlie just so happens to be a key factor in both. While I did not want to spoil anything, I will say that over the course of this season, it is revealed that Karn and Manson share a sexual attraction with each other(with Karn ending up in Manson's bed, eventually). There is no setup, or nothing to support this, just Manson's real life charges of homosexual rape. The other secret, is that in 1959, Charlie helped both Ken and his partner Hal cover up a crime. These scenes, which are in fact flashback scenes, show Charles Manson with a complete different appearance, sporting a clean shave and business suit. Which is the complete opposite of the real Manson, or even the "character" we come to know from the scenes taking place in the present on this show. It's possible that during 7 years that this Manson could have become the Manson of the present, but at least give us something to support the change.

This hodgepodge nature of plotting also occurs throughout the show via numerous subplots. Not only do we have Hodiak investigating the disappearance of Emma Karn. He is also estranged from his alcoholic wife, Opal, and he himself is an alcoholic as well. Also on the home front, his son Walt, who is a soldier in the Vietnam war, goes AWOL, when Walt doesn't agree with the military's tactics. Then there is the rekindling love affair between Hodiak, and Grace Karn. And the lastly, elsewhere, Hodiak works other cases with his younger colleagues, Shafe and Tull. The cases, all homicides, range from a terminally ill man killing his wife, racially motivated murder, and the killing of a gay actor. While each of the cases are decently written, watching Hodiak and Shafe go out on the beat, becomes a bit dull, with a few perks in between. But one thing that I can say for certain, is that these other murder investigations take away from what is supposed to be the shows main focus - Charles Manson. The scenes involving Charles Manson and the family, are by far the most interesting thing about this show, so the fact that the show spends so much time away from them, boggles my mind.

But with that said, I will say that I did have a favorite episode during this first season, and ironically, it is one episode that had very little to do with Manson. The episode titled, "Why?", which is the 9th episode of the season deals with an unknown killer, whom goes around fatally shooting cops, and in a bizarre twist, in each case, one cop being Caucasian, and the other African American. Now, throughout the season, I really enjoyed all of the stuff involving Brian Shafe, and Charmain Tully. From both Charmain and Brian infiltrating the Manson gang, pretending to be potential prospects, to Shafe's investigations in Narcotics, it's all pretty cool(but again, has noting to do with Manson). So when Claire Holt, as "Charmain Tully" took center stage in said episode, it was interesting. Throughout the season, Tully struggles to fit in, in the male dominated field, so when opportunity to prove herself capable presents itself, whether it be posing as a Manson girl, or someones griving sister, she takes it. In this particular episode, Charmain agrees to go on a ride along with 2 male cops, who are later killed right before her eyes. Shocked, she was unable to react. And because of that the blame was put squarely on her. This episode was great. Nicely written and emotionally charged. As multiple Policemen die, following the white/black pattern of killings, both Hodiak and his team struggle to pin the killer. Aside from the number of things that I enjoyed about the first season, it was only this episode that I felt was the most solid as a whole. It had the type of tension and drama that excites you for the next episode to follow. But unfortunately, the episodes to follow were just not as strong. The most silly, being an episode, in which Sam Hodiak, played by, David Duchovny, has his drink drugged by Manson, who laces it with LSD. What follows, is an episode which sees Hodiak stumbling around drunk. and hallucinating. It's silly, and just feels out of place. What's worse, is that the episode is followed by another story involiving a Latino cop, who has been posing, as being Irish, just to please his colleagues on the force. He knows that if they find out that he'd be ridiculed, and possibly booted. Well, the episode ends with the man drunk, delusional, and suicidal. Sound similar? Right.

So with all of this said, AQUARIUS is a show with big potential. However, this first season is basically all over, and has a difficult time keeping focus on one thing. There are a lot of things going on here, in the show, and sometimes it has difficulty managing. The end result is an experience, which is really uneven. While some things may be entertaining, there are other things that just do not flow consistently, and are a bit confusing, as they feel completely out of place. With the season ending on a fairly interesting note, I hold out hope that the show will only head in a much better direction. However, with a highly fictionalized "Charles Manson", as its anchor, i'm just not sure how far a show like this one can go. Especially when the show finally reaches the time period in which the Tate-Labianca tragedies occurred. If it even gets that far, that is.

The home video release of AQUARIUS : THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON, presents all 13 of the first season's episodes in a complete uncut for. While shooting, 2 different versions for scenes were filmed. Of course one for its TV broadcast, and then an alternate version. for the DVD and Blu-Ray release. This, the uncut version includes more graphic language, and some nudity. It's good to see these episodes uncut. I initially began watching the show as it aired, however I never got caught up in my viewing. So I am glad to see them here, as they were intended. It's not a huge difference, and we don't see the ones who we really want to see in the nude(it's still pretty safe), but still, it's a plus.

AQUARIUS -THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON is presented in a 4 disc Blu-Ray case. The first disc is secured on the back of the front panel of the case, while the second and third disc are secured in a double-sided center holder. The fourth, and final disc, is secured id the case's back panel. There is no slipcover for this release.

Special Features
- Webisodes

As I said, I really had hopes for this show, and still have a little hope left for it to get better. But as is, AQUARIUS falls short of being the next big show that it strives to be. While, I did enjoy the Manson family stuff, and feel that Actresses Ambyr Childers("Sadie"), and Emma Dumont("Emma) were the perfect choice as Manson girls, and I loved the performances of David Duchovny("Sam Hodiak"), Grey Damon("Brian Shafe"), and Claire Holt("Charmain Tully") especially. There are just too many obstacles that get in the way, causing the show to be ultimately unfocused. I could only hope that this will improve during the upcoming season.

AQUARIUS : THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON will be released on Blu-Ray, and DVD, on September 15, 2015

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