On Friday Presto adds 1960s drama Aquarius, featuring David Duchovny.
Until now Presto titles have comprised non-Exclusive series that have aired on Foxtel, Seven or ABC. That changes with Aquarius, with 13 binge episodes available for 28 days, the same day as the US.
But as the first Exclusive title, Aquarius is no House of Cards or Better Call Saul. It’s no Wentworth or Game of Thrones which remain Foxtel premieres, not Presto.
It begins in Los Angeles 1967, as a drama “Inspired by real events with fictitious characters, places and circumstances.” It’s an intoxicating setting of hippies, free love, excess, drugs and anti-establishment behaviour, accompanied by a colourful, musical backdrop with dark undertones.
At a local party guileless teenager Emma (Emma Dumont), daughter of high-profile lawyer Ken Karn (Brian F. O’Byrne) and Grace (Michaela McManus), meets the charismatic young Charles Manson (Gethin Anthony). He offers her a refuge when her wayward boyfriend Rick (Beau Mirchoff) is lured by other oral temptations behind her back.
Manson has his own harem of followers, mesmerised by his personality, burgeoning music career and sexuality.
“They can’t see who we really are. We’re special, we’re powerful and we can change everything,” he will later tell her.
Emma follows the flock, becoming a Missing Persons case and prompting her mother to contact a former flame, Detective Sam Hodiak (Duchovny) for assistance.
Hodiak (rhyming nicely with Zodiac) is former WWII and Vietnam War veteran disillusioned with LA succumbing to such loose living. But he seconds younger undercover vice cop Brian Shafe (Grey Damon) to help locate the missing Emma. If the handsome, relaxed Shafe is the good cop then the short-tempered Hodiak is bad cop. They uncover a discreet link between Manson and Emma’s father, Ken, and convince policewoman Charmain Tully (Claire Tully) to go undercover.
The central relationship in Aquarius is the generational rift between the obstinate Hodiak and streetwise Shafe, in appearance and police methodology. The other key force is Manson, depicted here as a handsome, menacing, Romeo. Dramatic license indeed given he would later be found guilty of conspiracy to commit the murders of seven people.
After such liberal living in Californication, one has to look twice when Duchovny’s character objects to LA’s ‘modern’ lifestyle. His performance style of underplaying makes some scenes sluggish while dialogue occasionally signposts backstories -hopefully removed after establishing scenes.
The link between Manson and Emma’s father borders on ludicrous, notably in a car park scene and again in the second episode. The soundtrack, thick with songs from the 1960s, sometimes feels like it is leading the drama rather than complementing it. It’s as if it is another character here.
There is potential in Aquarius, although I’m yet to be convinced of the ongoing value of the Manson character -which brings me back to the choice of this as a first Exclusive for Presto. More compelling curation of content is required if Presto is looking for a point of difference from other players.
Aquarius premieres Friday on Presto.