In the US: Wednesdays, 9/8c, CBS
Well we’ve seen how the amateurs do it – now it’s the turn of the pros, because following NBC’s efforts at doing manly special forces operations with The Brave, we now have CBS’s rejoinder in the form of SEAL Team.
In an ideal world of course, they’d be calling it SEAL Team 6, but since History has already given us the almost identical Six, CBS presumably could only get custody of the first half of the name. Maybe this is SEAL Team 5.
Anyway, it’s basically The Unit again, as we get an elite troop of special forces blokes (and a woman) who have to take off at a moment’s notice to shoot people overseas. Against that backdrop, they have to juggle complicated home lives and the toll the job takes on them. The big difference? It’s that David Boreanaz from Bones and Angel in charge, not Dennis Haysbert.
Episode one sees the goodies go into a fake African country to take out a pseudo Osama Bin Laden. Things go wrong, of course, and there’s also a newbie along for the ride (Max Thieriot), as well as a member of the CIA (Jessica Paré) who has slightly different perspectives on the priorities for the mission, as there’s also a hostage being held in the same location. Meanwhile, Boreanaz has his ungrateful kids to worry about and he’s seeing a mandated therapist (24‘s Reiko Aylesworth) because he’s still a bit traumatised that one of his men was killed on a recent mission.
Compared to The Brave, SEAL Team is streets ahead. The production values are vastly higher, with even a Black Hawk getting deployed. The direction is imaginative, with drone shots, first person point of view work, night vision work and the obligatory shaky-cam. There are shoot-outs galore on SEa, Air and Land, as well as the obligatory surveillance and infiltration scenes, and trips to whatever the SEAL equivalent of the Killing House is. Everything looks and feels the part.
The script by Benjamin Cavell (Justified, Sneaky Pete, Homeland) also has an air of authenticity The Brave can only dream of. The SEALs come across as smart and professional and they clearly work with others who are similarly smart and professional, both in other agencies and within the chain of command. There are no easy, obvious idiots for them to mock and rail against.
They also talk like professionals – they have jargon they all know and don’t have to explain to each other. It takes you a while to work out what ‘s-vests’ and ‘STRAPs’ (I think that’s what they said anyway…) are, for example, but not knowing doesn’t mystify you and let’s you believe that you’re watching something close to the real thing.
The show actually spends time allowing us to get to know everyone, too, rather than hoping that ‘the Muslim’, ‘the woman’, and ‘old Angel’ will suffice as character traits the audience will embrace. There’s even a bit of zingy dialogue now and then:
SEAL 1: Is that racist?
SEAL 2: I’ll tell you what’s racist. Always asking the black guy if something’s racist.
But despite that, SEAL Team isn’t a real winner. We’ve seen countless iterations of this show before and even once I’d ‘met’ all the characters, I still didn’t really have much interest in them, as they were either dull or dicks. The plot’s nothing special and the ‘tough guy who doesn’t like talking about his feelings and has a messed up relationship with his family’ isn’t exactly Columbo in terms of idiosyncrasies.
And maybe I’ve seen too many ‘top ISIS commanders’ killed in too many action shows recently, but it would be good, just for a change, for us to be off shooting at FARC in Colombia, say, since not only is variety the spice of life, it doesn’t exactly raise the stakes for action heroes any more. There’s just too many of these ISIS boys and it’s not like they ever get much of an introduction or build-up beyond having a name with ‘bin’ in the middle.
By the end of it, as is the case so often with CBS procedurals, I found I’d watched a very competently made, well produced, efficient piece of storytelling that was utterly unremarkable and in no way made me want to watch more. True, it’s a bit closer to reality than the average CBS action fest (cf Scorpion), but there was nothing about it that I could really grab onto to make me return.
For TMINE’s sake, I will though, but if it’s one thing this season is already teaching us, it’s not enough to give characters an important job, they have to have depth, too.