The Manson miniseries Aquarius doesn’t get everything right — but it captures part of ’60s California.
It’s a subject of continuing bafflement how despite the fact that the television business is largely based in Los Angeles – it so consistently gets the city and state in which it’s based so wrong. Even a show as smart and serious as ‘Mad Men’ cast the Golden State as a swimming-pool-and-Disneyland caricature. Mainstream movies are often not much better.But while the new Charles Manson-inspired NBC miniseries ‘Aquarius’ has got its share of problems (Alessandra Stanley’s New York Times review calling it ‘a disturbing — and compelling — portrait of the peace and love generation’ seems to be an outlier) – it’s better than most when it sketches the hillside retreats – suburban mansions – cramped cottages and sprawling freeways of Los Angeles.
Its view of ‘The ‘60s’ — it’s hard not to refer to the era without scare quotes — and the Summer of Love is a bit too picture perfect – clearly the stylists and costume designers has a blast on this one. But the show’s look at a changing California is not bad at all. In fact – next to David Duchovny’s performance as an old-school – flat-topped police detective – it may be the best thing about the show.
Perhaps the key element that makes it work is the way ‘Aquarius’ looks at both sides of the social and generational tensions of its time and place. Typically movies and television set on the West Coast in the ‘60s and ‘70s look at hippies – psychedelic culture – drugs- free love – the civil rights movement – and so on. But it’s always the left (or young) side of the equation. ‘Aquarius’ by contrast – gives us plenty of counterculture and ferment — acoustic guitars- footage of the Sunset Strip riots- endless pot smoke on Topanga porches- marginalized black Angelenos — as well as the conservative reaction that ended up being just as consequential.It’s easy to miss it if you only see what Hollywood turns out – but the ‘60s was a period of substantial conservative ascendancy — the beginning of the rupture of the liberal consensus — especially in California. Not only did Nixon slither out of Southern California — and get elected to president in 1968 — Ronald Reagan was sworn in as California governor in 1967 – a few months before the Summer of Love commenced.(cont..)