TV review by
Emily Ashby, Common Sense Media
Backstrom TV Poster Image
Crime dramedy with offensive lead misses the mark.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

Backstrom constantly takes shots at women and minorities in offensive ways such as mocking Native American war cries, asking a man of Indian descent why so many of his people "live at the dump," and saying that an African-American man "stands out like a raisin in a bowl of buttered popcorn." Even in casual conversation, descriptions are qualified with race: "that black stripper" or "my Hindu doctor." There's a clear line between right and wrong when it comes to police cases, but Backstrom often straddles that line with regard to his own behavior. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Backstrom is no hero, and the way he treats the people in his life is rivaled only by his self-destructive impulses. But by some stroke of luck, he's good at his job, and he won't stop until he's done it thoroughly. Even so, he's sometimes motivated by the wrong reason, saying he's driven for convictions rather than the truth. Other characters are less controversial and more suited to the good-guy (or -gal) role. 


Police encounters with gunfire, and some people are killed. Visible wounds and blood. Corpses are in full view, but there's no excessive gore. 


Bedroom scenes show women in underwear and bras. Strip-club patrons watch women pole-dance in lingerie. Frequent comments about genitalia and intercourse, often in slang terms such as "balls," "boy bits," "banging," "I'd tap that," and "bumping fuzzies." Also references to Internet pornography and prostitution, and questionable references to homosexuality with terms such as "queer."


"Hell" and "dammit." 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Backstrom is a habitual drinker and smoker, often shown with a cigar or a beer even when he's on the clock. In some cases, he drinks to drunkenness, which is meant to be funny rather than worrisome. Some stories involve perpetrators' use of narcotics such as heroin.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Backstrom is a crime drama/comedy inspired by a Swedish book series whose protagonist is cynical, rude, and self-destructive. He drinks and smokes a lot, even on the job, and the fact that his health suffers from it is considered funny rather than a source of concern. He's also offensive and often takes verbal jabs at women and minorities. Women are shown in lingerie, and bedroom scenes show partners in various stages of undress although no full nudity. Slang euphemisms for sex include "I'd tap that" and "bumping fuzzies," and there are references to sensitive body parts. Expect the typical amount of violence in crime scenes, with shooting, some injuries, death, and views of corpses. 

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Teen, 14 years old Written byangelsmokey124 January 25, 2015

What's the story?

Five years after being demoted to the traffic beat for his offensiveness, Detective Lieutenant Everett Backstrom (Rainn Wilson) gets another shot at solving murders when he's reinstated to Portland's new Special Crimes Unit. His unorthodox approach to detective work doesn't sit well with his intense new counterpart, Detective Nicole Gravely (Genevieve Angelson), but even she has to admit that his intuitive insight is effective. With a talented forensic and evidence team behind the scenes and the likes of Detective Sergeant John Almond (Dennis Haysbert) on the street with him, Backstrom takes aim at the city's major crimes.

Is it any good?

BACKSTROM is moderately successful at the daunting challenge of blending crime drama with Wilson's considerable comic talents, but there are numerous moments in which the colliding forces are more awkward than symbiotic, coming off as confusing to viewers as they almost suggest a parody instead of a comedy. (Am I supposed to laugh? Is it trying to be serious?) Ultimately the story's darkness overrides the rest, and Backstrom's sullen, disheveled demeanor and self-sabotage fit better against this backdrop than they do against the fits of attempted levity.

Fans of producer Hart Hanson's other crime drama, Bones, will notice some similarities between the shows, particularly with regard to the cast's unique personalities that invite lots of discord and banter. The story's intended mature audience can take Backstrom's offensiveness, self-destructive impulses, and generally unappealing nature in stride, but younger viewers will get mixed messages from his caustic qualities and wholly unhealthy lifestyle. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Backstrom's redeeming qualities. Does he have any? What are his motivations in his work? Does the fact that he works for the common good outweigh his many negative traits?

  • What are the benefits of maintaining a healthy lifestyle? Is it something your teens ever think about? How does screen time factor into it? What are some small changes you can make in your lives to improve your general health?

  • Does this show's comedy/drama partnership work well? Why, or why not? How does the show hold up against more traditional police dramas? 

TV details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love teen fare

Themes & Topics

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