Review: S.W.A.T. 1×1 (US: CBS)

Marvel's Luke Cage Season 1.5


In the US: Thursdays, 10/9c, CBS

It would be tempting to think of S.W.A.T., CBS’s new mid-mid-season replacement drama, as the latest and last of the current trend in military shows that’s so far given us The Brave, SEAL Team and Valor. After all, watch any cop movie or TV show and you’l have quickly gleaned that S.W.A.T. (Special Weapons And Tactics) are a sort of militarised version of the US police who dress in black, have lots of guns and grenades, drive army-grade vehicles and burst into buildings to shoot criminals who also have lots of guns.

The truth is actually a little different, of course. The US and even Los Angeles aren’t so violent that they can justify having a bunch of dedicated armed ninja on staff, doing nothing but hanging around all day waiting to shoot things. So for the most part, SWAT officers are regular cops who receive specialised training but go about doing regular police work until they get the call – they usually carry their SWAT gear around in the backs of their cars, in fact.

Knowing this fact doesn’t actually make S.W.A.T. that much less mystifying, though. Even knowing that it’s an adaptation of a 1975 TV series that starred The Baron‘s Steve Forrest and Vegas‘s Robert Urich isn’t going to help you either, although it will help to explain the music played over the pilot episode’s final scene.

Because firstly, it’s actually not all that violent. More weirdly, though, rather than being a reboot of the original TV show, this new S.W.A.T. is really CBS’s answer to Marvel’s Luke Cage.


The first episode sees Shemar Moore (Birds of Prey, Criminal Minds) take over Steve Forrest’s role of Daniel “Hondo” Harrelson, here an LA SWAT team member. When his white boss (Stargate Universe‘s Louis Ferreira) accidentally shoots a black kid during a shoot-out, he gets a swift promotion.

None of which sounds that odd. What’s odd is that for the most part, Moore’s character seems to think he’s been promoted to Chief of Police. He has long, tedious speeches about why he became a cop, how he’s going to change policing to make it more community-based (“we’re going to treat them like they’re a part of the family”), how he’s going to get everyone on side, how he’s going to treat everyone with respect and so on.

And he might have a point. Because for most of the show, Moore and the rest of his unit go around investigating crimes, rather than shooting things. They want to find the perp who got away and they’re up against another SWAT team who are going to use the more traditional method of policing. Cue more speeches from Moore to angry black mobs about how he will “personally assure you that each of these young men will be treated with respect”. That seems to do the job.

Basically, Moore is Luke Cage, showing through word and deed what a strong black man needs to do in modern US society to stand up for his community. Black? Feeling angry? Moore has some suggestions for what to do with that anger. Don’t want to engage with the police? Neither did he when he was beaten as a kid, but then his father told him to join the police to change it from the inside and now he can. And so on.

No tactics

All very inspiring, yes, and Moore is a powerful presence. But the show doesn’t want to offend any white people in the audience by making its black-people-shooting white antagonists actual racists (“Their motive is political”), for example, so most of its time it’s telling what it hopes is still its largely black audience the correct way to be reverential to and avoid being shot by the police. That’ll sort the problem out. Black people need to fix the issue themselves, you see.

The show therefore can’t get truly political so needs something a bit more adrenaline-inspiring to really stand out. And here is where it all goes a bit pear-shaped, since oddly, S.W.A.T. is very, very bad at violence.

Sure, the first episode is directed by Justin Lin (Fast and the Furious, Star Trek: Beyond) and it actually has stunt people doing leaping, falling, shooting and exploding without the benefit of CGI wherever possible, which is admirable in this day and age. But on the few occasions that it does have a shoot-out, the weapons may be special but the tactics are beyond stupid. Usually, these involve opening fire in ricochet-prone enclosed spaces; they also typically involve teams of too few people splitting up into far smaller teams, so they can get beaten up in dark alleys. Of course, there’s nothing that improves aim more than having a long run and a hand-to-hand fight just beforehand, is there?

Sometimes, tactics go straight out the window and just running towards a sniper across an open park shouting “He’s over there on top of that building.” Fortunately, an army-grade sniping round can’t pass through a palm tree, can it, so they can use that for cover, surely?

Going round a corner? Real-life SWAT teams are taught not to get too close in case the baddie is round the other side and can grab the muzzle of your rifle. Guess what happens instead on S.W.A.T.

There is an almost-exciting bank heist at the end that owes a lot to Heat‘s justifiably famous shoot out.

Except the show apparently only has the budget for the scene to last about three seconds and ends with Shamar Moore proving that the fastest thing in LA isn’t a cop car driving at 80mph – it’s HIS LEGS. Of course, the Heat shoot-out would never have happened – real-life cops would simply have followed the bad guys to their base, rather than risk a shoot out in a highly populated area where plenty of people could get shot. Again, S.W.A.T. could have been an opportunity to show that kind of real-life tactic but instead, it would much rather have cars flipping over, rocket-propelled grenades flying and SWAT team members firing carbines indiscriminately on full automatic. It also gives our heroes a special CSI: Miami-style SWAT secret base to work from.

If you thought for a moment you might actually learn something from S.W.A.T. as with SEAL Team, you’re bang out of luck.

What a weapon

When it isn’t preaching and trying – and failing – to be exciting, S.W.A.T. is a limp affair. Most of the other characters are lifts from the original series, with Aussie Alex Russell taking on Robert Urich’s maverick “Jim Street” role, largely by popping wheelies on his motorbike although he does get a nice speech about his mum at one point. He’s a bit of a dick, though.

There are a few additions to the roster, most to emphasise the fact this isn’t 1975, including Lina Esco as a female team member and Stephanie Sigman as Moore’s girlfriend and… new boss (oops). However, this is principally the Shemar Moore show, so don’t expect any character development for these also-rans unless it’s in the interest of boosting his character.

Not special

Unless you’re a big fan of Shemar Moore or are bored of waiting for season 2 of Luke CageS.W.A.T. is a cack-handed attempt to create YA CBS procedural and cash in on nostalgia for a 70s TV ‘classic’ that really isn’t worth your time. Moore’s good, the show has at least a few things to say of note, and it’s nice to have a CBS show with a principally BAME cast. But all that’s far too little for what the format needs to make it a good piece of drama. Avoid.


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.

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