How ‘Battle Creek’ Will Revive the Small Town Crime Drama

Josh Duhamel, Fire With FireLionsgate via Everett Collection

If Battle Creek, Michigan is known at all, it’s for being the home of Kellogg’s, the country’s largest cereal manufacturer. If Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan has anything to say about it, however, that’s all about to change. Gilligan, along with former House executive producer David Shore, has the crime drama Battle Creek premiering on CBS in the fall. The show follows Josh Duhamel as an FBI agent dispatched from Detroit to the Southwestern Michigan city to set up a new field office, who has to work with a local detective, played by Dean Winters (Law & Order: SVU). It’s a high powered affair with X-Men: Days of Future Past director Bryan Singer helming the first episode and serving as one of the show’s producers.

In Breaking Bad, Gilligan charted the rise of Walter White, an unlikely drug kingpin in the semi-odd location of Albuquerque, New Mexico. While that locale was strictly chosen for financial considerations — the cost to shoot there was cheaper than California — this time the show’s setting was done with a purpose.

By placing the show in a small, economically depressed city — especially one surrounded largely by rural areas and tied to the rest of the world by the interstate that runs through it connecting Detroit with Chicago — Gilligan has set his story up to deal with issues that we don’t normally see a big city crime drama delve into. The detectives on the show will be working with basically no budget and without much support. Unlike, say, the detectives on Castle, a show where there is a seemingly neverending supply of resources, Battle Creek‘s law enforcement will be forced to work with the outdated technology and Duhamel’s earnest FBI agent won’t be getting a warm reception from the locals (who also include Kal Penn and Janet McTeer).

Settling in a Midwestern city, where there’s a stark racial disparity between the population within the city limits and the population just outside, gives Gilligan and his writers an opportunity to address social issues that frequently get ignored these days by most police dramas… namely the rifts that still exist throughout much of the nation along both racial and socioeconomic lines. In a nod to Breaking Bad — and given the actual level of the crime in the actual Battle Creek — expect to see some storylines that deal with crystal meth producers.

Unlike some other crime shows that have been set off the beaten path — such as Twin Peaks or Justified — the feel of Battle Creek isn’t meant to come off as unique or quirky. The real Battle Creek is a mix of urban decay, Midwestern values and apathy brought on by the steady decrease in the area’s industry and economy (full disclosure: I grew up in the area and still pass through on a semi-regular basis). It’s a situation that is germane to a lot of small cities that once had a wealth of manufacturing that helped it grow but then did not have anything to replace the jobs or money when those companies moved or closed.

Gilligan originally tried to sell his pilot script about 10 years ago at the onset of the country’s economic downturn. Years later, the situation hasn’t changed markedly for Battle Creek and dozens of cities exactly like it. Deciding to tell a police story amidst that reality is an interesting choice… what Gilligan and his team decide to do with it will be fascinating to watch.