7 Reasons Why Backstrom Is Perfect Counter-Culture Conservative TV

Don’t let the appearance of Rainn Wilson fool you. Everett Backstrom is no Dwight Schrute, nor is Backstrom yet another take on the Sherlock trend. This smart, funny detective series walks into dark territory to examine the human desire to look toward the light. It goes against formula and against the grain manipulating authority and questioning politically correct cultural norms in pursuit of truth, justice and, even more intriguingly, redemption from evil. Here are 7 reasons why Backstrom is trendsetting, essential counter-culture conservative television that demands a place on the air.

7. He doesn’t waste his time with political correctness.

Backstrom explains to his “Hindu Doctor” that he was demoted because at a press conference on the arrest of a serial killer of Native Americans he sang, “One little, two little, three little Indians.” This is your introduction to a guy who is far too focused on the real evil of bloodthirsty killers to get distracted by a claim of petty offense. In fact, his refusal to be politically correct contributes to his deductive reasoning. “I’m you,” he’ll begin when he confronts a suspect, tearing them apart, eyeing up their race, gender, sexuality as elements that contribute to the bigger, more important picture of motive. He’s not willing to stereotype for a solution, either. Hard facts including a person’s biology and psychology play into his theorizing, not junk social science. And he gets away with it because he’s right.

6. He’s anti-bureaucracy.

Backstrom trusts no system. Nor does he play by the rules. His “tenant” Gregory Valentine is a professional black market dealer often called upon during cases. Suicides become homicides so the team can get paid for meals on the jobM and when one cross-dresser is found dead it’s a “crime against the gays” because hate crimes take precedence over appearing before A civilian oversight committee (the real threat to police work). Backstrom isn’t just a rebel without a cause, he plays the system to his own advantage, creating paper trails via White Out and after-the-fact warrants. Bureaucracies are about control. Backstrom is about freedom.

5. He has refreshingly painful, honest relationships with powerful women.

Backstrom was engaged over a decade ago to a brilliant woman who resurfaces as the head of the dreaded Civilian Oversight Committee. Within five minutes you learn he’s still in love, she helped make him who he is, and she broke it off because he couldn’t rid himself of the psychological demons that drove him to drink. Later he attempts to lure sexual solace out of his sexy French co-worker who knows his game and suavely puts him in his place with a reassuring smile. Backstrom is reminiscent of a film noir private eye, falling for the dame so hard it nearly kills him (and maybe in the end it will). This is the real world, far from the safety of Cosmo, the questioning of Girls and the sterilization of romantic encounters through sexual consent apps. How can you tell? Women win every time.

4. He isn’t anti-crime, he’s anti-evil.

To Backstrom, all organized religious institutions are cults that hide secrets. “And I hate secrets.” Yet he works most closely with Detective Almond, a preacher with a church on the side. The show’s writers use Backstrom’s doubt to highlight the very human need for God and faith. Before dismissing religious institutions as cults, Backstrom is plagued by sleeplessness. His doctor who advises him to record his lies in a journal in exchange for sleeping pills later advises him that what he really needs is a spiritual outlet:

Detective Backstrom we are more than meat. We are spiritual creatures who need something larger than ourselves to believe in God, love, art. All your difficulties spring from denying the fact that part of you is divine, the part of you that connects all of us. Even you must feed your soul.

A detective show that presents its audience with the thesis that we can’t do it all alone in a culture that expects us to do it all…alone? That’s counter-culture.

3. He is intentionally imperfect.

Sherlock has a perfect mind. Watson has a perfect spirit. Forever‘s Dr. Henry Morgan is eternal. Backstrom is not perfect in body, mind or spirit. He gives us no belief that by perfecting ourselves we can perfect the world. Instead he says we’re all imperfect, we’re all fated to death, and that is why we should be all the more fearless in our pursuit of what is right. Backstrom’s is a level playing field where there is no superiority to be had, only justice, which is impossible to achieve on a human scale. The focus, therefore, is on the pursuit of justice, not the power of the pursuer.

2. His pursuit of justice is a human manifestation of pursuing redemption.

When he’s after a serial kidnapper of teenage girls, we learn Backstrom’s “boogey man” philosophy. The criminal isn’t just committing a crime. The criminal is evil, as evil as the imaginary boogey man that haunted him in his youth. Standing in stark contrast to the modern theory that criminals are essentially good people who do bad things and can thus go to prison and be reformed, Backstrom doesn’t pursue perpetrators with the goal of jail time grad degrees. His pursuit is to capture, lock up and claim victory over evil, and in doing so to redeem the victim, dead or alive.

1. Because solutions aren’t human, they are divine.

Having hit a dead end in their investigation, Backstrom’s colleague/part-time pastor suggests they pray. An unbeliever, Backstrom reluctantly agrees out of desperation and in that one quiet moment remembers a caveat in the law that will allow them to hold the kidnapper long enough to find his victims alive and rescue them. In an ironic twist, media coverage of the investigation caught the prayer circle, drawing attention to the pastor’s church that was in threat of eviction. Thanks to Backstrom solving the case, the media attention led to an outpouring of donations that saved the church, one welcoming of all of the Backstrom crew regardless of religious orientation. God, the pastor explains as we are treated to a shot of a dead-drunk Backstrom, clothes powerful goodness in seemingly ugly packages.

Just because we are all doomed to mortality doesn’t mean we have to choose to be evil. Precisely because we are mortal we can choose to pursue truth with reckless abandon. In doing so we free ourselves from the fear of what others think of us, and in turn we echo Einstein’s sentiment: “I want to know God’s thoughts, the rest are mere details.” Contrary to popular belief, Backstrom argues that evil is a choice and empowers us to rid ourselves of our demons in a very practical, real-world way. In echoing Rainn Wilson’s belief in our culture’s need for a spiritual revolutionBackstrom provides a counter-culture perspective in the form of a humorous, thought-provoking mystery.


Join the discussion on Twitter. The essay above is the eighth in volume 2 of the cultural discussions between the writers of PJ Lifestyle and Liberty Island exploring the history of counter-cultures, the future of conservatism and the role of new, emerging counter-cultures in restoring American exceptionalism.

Volume II

  1. Frank J. Fleming on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Government? Why It Won’t Look Like Star Trek 
  2. Aaron C. Smith on February 26, 2015: What Is the Future of Superheroes? Why They Need To Start Killing Super-Villains
  3. Mark Ellis on February 26, 2016: What Is the Future of Gen-X Manhood? Adam Carolla Vs Chuck Palahniuk?
  4. David S. Bernstein on February 26, 2015: What is the Future of Fiction? You’ll Be Shocked Who’s Fighting the New Conservative Counter-Culture
  5. Aaron C. Smith on March 2, 2015: The House Loses: Why Season 3 of House of Cards Utterly Disappoints
  6. Michael Walsh on March 2: What the Left Doesn’t Get About Robert A. Heinlein
  7. Frank J. Fleming on March 4: 8 Frank Rules For How Not to Tweet

See the first volume of articles from 2014 and January and February 2015 below:

2014 – Starting the Discussion

January 2015 – Volume I

February 2015