In the US: Mondays, 9pm, The CW
Valor arrives to a crowded schedule. The US Fall season for 2017 has already welcomed some military special forces shows, with CBS and NBC delivering us SEAL Team and The Brave. Each network has its own characteristics and each of the two shows has largely embodied those characteristics. However, The Brave, while cheaper-looking, less authentic and less sure of itself than SEAL Team, turned out to be a far more engaging show than its shiny cousin.
So what then should you expect of this third effort, given it’s coming from The CW – the network of superheroes, the supernatural, soaps and supernatural superhero soaps? Something in a similar vein but wearing a uniform or something a whole lot better?
Steady on, soldier. Let’s not get carried away. But certainly Valor sits somewhere in the middle of the two shows rather than lingering behind on latrine duty.
Christina Ochoa (Blood Drive) plays an army pilot, who’s also one of the first women to be a member of the US special forces. She and her senior pilot Matt Barr (Hellcats) are involved on a mission in Somalia that goes wrong. They get shot down and are forced to survive until their rescue. Unfortunately, the rest of their team aren’t so lucky.
When they get back, they’re awarded medals and lauded with praise. However, there’s something that they’ve not told anyone about their mission, which becomes apparent when one of the soldiers they said had been killed turns up as a hostage to some Somalian terrorists.
What happened on the mission? Why are their superiors lying to them? Will their captured buddies escape from the Somalian terrorists? What was the mission really about? And will our hero and heroine find out before the CIA learn what they’re up to? Or even before they start some illicit, court-martiable shagging?
For a CW show, it’s far harder edged and bigger budgeted than you might imagine. They even manage to get a proper Black Hawk to fly around for a bit and do some manoeuvres, which is more than The Brave ever managed. It also feels more authentic than The Brave, and everyone talks the talk in a more superficially believable way than The Brave does. The helicopter side of things is even up to speed, with people knowing the difference between collective and cyclic, as well as how to auto-rotate.
Better still, it’s far less reverential than SEAL Team and The Brave, making our heroine a pill-taker, since she can’t deal with her post-mission PTSD otherwise. She’s also the centre of the show’s attention and isn’t there just to add a bit of diversity. We get to know who she is as a person and even when the inevitable “I had to work twice as hard to get here…” speech comes along, the show earns it. Sometimes it tries a little too hard to give her personality, such as making her a drummer as that helps her relax, but you can’t fault them for trying. I’d rather they did more than less in this instance.
Inevitably, there’s shagging and relationship issues, since it’s still The CW, but the show spends a commendable amount of time focused on the army side of things and its thriller plot, even if it has to break off for a little light librarian bondage for some R&R from time to time.
Stuck up against SEAL Team, though, Valor does look like it’s filmed in a Canadian field bulked out with some pre-rendered CGI helicopters it bought off eBay. Everyone’s just a little bit too pretty and clean for comfort and Somali is surprisingly damp for East Africa.
Ochoa and Barr are reasonably committed to their roles, even if they both feel like they’ve come straight from basic training, rather than heroic missions behind enemy lines. Dialogue’s a little wooden and “tell don’t show”, but you’ll have heard far, far worse on both The Brave and SEAL Team. At least there aren’t any desperate attempts to eulogise God, country and country music to win over the flyover states.
So Valor isn’t terrible. In some ways, it’s better than both the alternatives. Its characters are more personable than both of those shows’. Its attention to military detail is greater than The Brave‘s, it has more to say than SEAL Team and it somehow still manages to look better than The Brave most of the time.
However, it isn’t great. It’s less exciting than both The Brave and SEAL Team, and its story arc is so minimally engaging that I doubt more than two members of the CIA would have to get demoted and get docked a couple of weeks’ pay if all the terrible secrets ever come out.
I doubt I’ll go further than the first three episodes, if that, but I’m pleasantly surprised by how well The CW has done here.