CBS’s new cop drama Battle Creek is a non-buddy cop show about two detectives with opposing takes on justice and society, solving crime in the unglamorous streets of Battle Creek, MI. The new show is the network lovechild of Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, X-Files) and David Shore (House, Family Law). Rotten Tomatoes visited the set during the shooting of season one’s penultimate episode in San Pedro, CA. On set, we spoke to stars Dean Winters, Josh Duhamel, and episode writer Danny Weiss. Here are eight things we thought you should know before it premieres on Sunday.
While Battle Creek is a real Michigan city, some aspects of it needed to be altered for dramatic value. Danny Weiss, one of the show writers, shared about the series, “We had to take some liberties, and we’re really trying to play up this under-funded police department. I think when [the crew] got there, the police department is the one part of Battle Creek that is pretty heavily funded, so we sort of had to stretch a little bit there.” Actor Josh Duhamel feels part of the show’s charm relies on it taking place in the “not-so-mean streets of Battle Creek,” allowing for an All-American feel with a gritty undertone. “They’ve been through tough economic times,” he said of the town citizens, “and because of that, crime has risen. Out of that, comes desperation and I think that because of all these things, you get this strange mash-up of what people perceive to be the All-American sort of town and big city crime.”
Dean Winters thought this project was fresh, having passed on multiple procedurals that he felt were boring. “I felt like it was a new take on an old genre and that can be a good thing,” he said. But Duhamel feels TV these days is “as good as anything out there in film right now,” and he signs onto projects like this because of the people producing and writing them: “I sat with Vince [Gilligan] and David [Shore] before we started and they explained to me what the show was about. I knew that I was going to be safe, I knew it was going to be quality writing. That was number one.”
Josh Duhamel told us that beneath his character Milton’s good looks something darker lurks: “This character lures people into believing that he’s somebody that everybody can trust. Part of that is the way I look in the show. I would normally have a problem with that, but it’s like setting the audience up for something.” For Russ, though, Dean Winters wanted to go the opposite route. “I wanted to be a little slouchy,” he said. “I put on, like, 5 or 10 pounds on purpose just to have a different gait. You look at Josh, he looks like a gold-medal roller from Yale — six-packs are boring. I wanted the way that we go about doing our jobs to be the polar opposite but I wanted us to look completely different.” He had to fight for his character’s look but he eventually broke the producers down.
From his experience playing on the other side of the tracks in Oz, Winters feels he’d make a better criminal than a detective. “I think it’d be more fun,” he said. But when it comes to real-life experience contributing to his law enforcement role, he informed us that he previously worked as a security guard in a night club so he “got the frisking part down.”
Duhamel had a chance to ride along with actual Battle Creek undercover detectives. He remembered that, while not witnessing any shootings or other dangerous shenanigans, he was once dressed up in the back of a car with an informant. “I don’t know how much I can tell you, I don’t want to get them into trouble,” he said, “but I saw some stuff that was involving confidential informants, purchasing things.” Once he thought a ride-along might go bad, but he had to stay with it and remain calm. “What are you going to do, tell them I’m scared and I can’t do it?”
Dean Winters clarified that anyone doing a ride-along gets thrown out as soon as the officers or detectives get a call. “Any actor who says he went on a call is lying through his teeth,” he told us. “You might roll up on something minor, but if there’s gun fire, you’re out. The first ride-along I ever did was in Times Square — I played a cop on New York Undercover — there was a shooting and they threw me right out of the car.”
Winters explained how his improvisational banter with Duhamel adds a fun, crispness to each of their characters’ personalities. “Even if we’re dealing with something kind of serious,” he said, “we’ll find a way to play with it, without changing the words. Just in the delivery and looks.” He added, “Josh is a funny guy. He’s easy to make fun of, too.” Duhamel agreed that it’s a very collaborative effort and that David Shore welcomes his character feedback.
Winters shared that the show was not initially written as funny. “I like to think that maybe I had something to do with that,” he ventured. “I’m a bit of an irreverent actor and I’m not sure that they were prepared for that. I did it on purpose because I was taught that you can’t have good drama without comedy. It’s impossible. Anything that is straight up drama just bores me to tears. It’s just so played out.” The word “dramedy” makes him nauseous but he feels Battle Creek has the perfect mix: “The cops that I spent time with, the firefighters I spent time with, the way they deal with what they deal with on an everyday basis is to keep it light. Even my friends who are emergency room surgeons — the people who are in jobs like that — if you don’t keep it light, you’re going to go crazy. And I think David [Shore] recognizes that. The show gets funnier and funnier and that’s important.”
Duhamel doesn’t want people to expect Breaking Bad. “We’re not on cable TV; we’re on network TV,” he said. But once fans and critics get past any preconceived notions of what he show will be, “people are going to find themselves realizing that this is something completely different, and it’s its own animal altogether. If it’s what we hope it’s going to be, it will be defined by its own merit.”
“I’m not gonna lie,” Winters elaborates, “it’s hard to push boundaries on CBS. It’s a great network, they know what they’re doing. But it’s difficult to push a real envelope these days and it’s because we have to acquiesce to advertisers. For what this show is doing, I think they’re doing a really good job. And I know we have tried to push boundaries. I think if the audience comes in and they get comfortable with the show we may be able to open up a little bit more. I think the major networks have to realize they’re going to have to compete with shows like Game of Thrones and Dexter and all the shows that have been so seminal in the last seven years that you have to up the ante. It’s a very interesting wrestling match that’s going on.”
Battle Creek airs Sunday, Mar. 1, on CBS at 10 p.m. Will you be watching?
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