Flashback to 1967 and the summer of love when thousands of flower children came together and started a social revolution. In Los Angeles, LAPD Detective Sam Hodiak (David Duchovny) is having trouble adjusting to the change in the mores in the world he and the Greatest Generation saved from fascism 20 years previously during World War II.
That is the backdrop for NBC's new summer series Aquarius, premiering May 28th, a work of historical fiction in which Hodiak solves crimes, and while doing so, encounters Charles Manson (Gethin Anthony), who is just beginning to become the Pied Piper and two years later will convince his followers to commit the heinous Tate-LaBianca murders.
"When Hodiak first hears of Charles Manson, nobody's ears prick up," Duchovny says. "It's just a name. I look him up. He's been arrested for being a pimp. He's done this. He's done that. But to me, he's nothing. I've got my job to do. I've got other more pressing things to take care of, and, I think, that's the attitude of the show, which would have been the attitude of the world at that time. It's like Charles Manson is nothing. It's not until he becomes Charles Manson that we all turn around and look at what happened."
Hodiak's first case is tracking down the 16-year-old daughter of an old girlfriend (Emma Dumont), who has run away from home and joined a group of hippies. As he searches for her, Hodiak is stonewalled by the don't-trust-anyone-over-30 generation, and, as a result, is forced to enlist the aid of a young, undercover cop (Grey Damon as Brian Shafe) to infiltrate the new counterculture.
"At first, Hodiak sees Brian as a means to an end," Duchovny says. "He isn't particularly fond of him, but as my character gets to know Grey's character, there's a grudging respect, and there's a slow growth that happens over the course of the first season, and, hopefully, over the course of subsequent seasons, where I see that this is a man of integrity, of honesty, and of substance."
Part of the appeal of Aquarius for Duchovny was the fact that Hodiak was so different than either Hank Moody in Californication or Fox Mulder in The X-Files. He had to go back in time to find the core of the character, who would have been born in the '20s or '30s, and seen life through a different prism.
"It definitely didn't hurt that this guy was a straight arrow, had a flat top, and would have taken a lot of pleasure in busting Hank Moody and punching him in the face," Duchovny says. "So that was definitely a positive in my view. But I just look at what's interesting to do, and what's available to me. That's the whole story."
Duchovny was attached to the star in Aquarius before the producers had even sold the project to a network, and he was working on the assumption that it would be picked up by a cable network, such as HBO, FX, or AMC, so he was shocked when NBC stepped forward and agreed to broadcast it.
"I don't think we compromised to put it on a network," Duchovny says, except for language. "Words, definitely words. You can't say s--t so, but you can't blame the quality of your show on the fact that you can't say s--t, you know? So, you find ways to make your show great without it."
It's common knowledge that NBC isn't the only network series happening for Duchovny. The announcement that there would be a six-episode new season of The X-Files in 2016, has fans panting for more information. But Duchovny learned his lesson early on when he erroneously mentioned casting information on the Late Show with David Letterman, so he is cautious about what he volunteers about the reboot.
"I feel like The X-Files never really went away," he says "People kept on talking about it. I feel like so many shows have come out of The X-Files, so much of not only TV but film has taken a turn into science fiction and into super heroes as a result. Twilight, to me, comes out of the The X-Files, so I figure, why not us [come back]?"
As for what kind of stories fans will be tuning into, Duchovny says he has yet to see a script, but he trusts creator Chris Carter to come up with great ideas. "I think there will be a couple of mythology episodes, and I assume there will be a few stand-alone episodes," is all he will volunteer.
But acting is not all that is on his slate. In between TV projects, Duchovny, who studied English literature at Princeton and Yale, is applying his creative talents to other artistic genres and proving himself to be quite the Renaissance man.
First up, in February he released Holy Cow: A Novel, which is described as a loopy fairy tale about three animals, trying to save their own lives by going on the road. He initially perceived it as an animated film, but when that didn't happen, he wrote it in book form.
"I just had the idle thought driving one day in Los Angeles that if I were a cow I'd probably try to get to India, you know? That would be my move," he says. "So, I thought, 'Well that amuses me. Are there any other animals that might want to get out of town and be safe?' Oh, a pig could go to Israel. If there were kosher laws there, he would probably feel pretty safe in Israel. Then a turkey might misunderstand that Turkey is not actually named after him, so he might want to go there.' One day a couple years ago, I woke up and just thought I'd like to write it out. So, that's what I did."
In addition, Duchovny has also taken to songwriting. The results are an alt-rock album Hell or Highwater that was released on May 12th. With The X-Files starting to film in June, he won't have time to tour on behalf of the album, but he will play live whenever the opportunity affords itself.
"It's just something that came about in the last few years," he says. "I just started playing guitar and singing and writing songs, and I found somebody foolish enough to allow me to make an album. Of all the things I've ever done in my life as a creative person, it really is the most me, the most unadulterated, coming from a sincere place."
Aquarius has a two-hour premiere on Thursday, May 28th at 9 p.m. ET/PT.