Friday, September 22, 2017

TV REVIEW: CBS' 'SEAL Team'

CBS will debut its new original drama series SEAL Team on Wednesday, September 27 at 9/8c. following the season premiere of Survivor. The drama stars David Boreanaz, Max Thieriot, Neil Brown Jr., A.J. Buckley, Toni Trucks and Jessica Paré.

Read on for my thoughts on the new drama after screening its first two episodes.


David Boreanaz has had a starring role in a television show every year since 1997. That's such an impressive track record. He's matured alongside audiences as well. First, he was on The WB with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Then, he moved to FOX with Bones. And now, he's leading a CBS procedural in SEAL Team. The network is giving the new show a high-profile time slot as well. Wednesday nights at 9/8c. following Survivor has been a stable hour for CBS for awhile thanks to the consistent performance from Criminal Minds. But that show is aging and the network needs new hits that break out in a major way. It's risky to be replacing what's already working. And yet, Boreanaz's track record would suggest that he can once again launch another successful TV show for many years to come. That's certainly what CBS is expecting. It has the potential of happening too. This fall is defined by CBS, NBC and The CW all trying to launch new, military-themed shows. Along with History's Six earlier this year, they all start to blend together as well. Of the three newcomers though, SEAL Team is the only one that's worth sticking with in the hopes that it will become a truly satisfying drama. It has the confidence, scope and performances to make it better off in the beginning than the other new series in this genre.

The premise of SEAL Team really isn't all that different from Six or NBC's The Brave. It follows an elite task force of SEAL Team agents as they carry out the most dangerous and crucial missions around the world. It delves into the professional expertise of these soldiers while the sacrifices they must make in their personal lives. The premiere really is structured similarly to the opening episode of Six - right down to the lead character needing to make it back home in time for his daughter's music recital. Meanwhile, the plot of the premiere is very similar to The Brave's in that it features a blonde American woman being held hostage by a vague terrorist. These plot devices have felt very manipulative, unnecessary and lame every time I've seen them this year. When I saw SEAL Team's version of it though, I felt like there was more going on that could suggest it becoming an essential show to watch - as a CBS procedural. It's still very rough in the early going. But the foundational elements are there to say it's capable of something more. This feels like a show where the creative team has put in the work regarding the world it depicts.

I really hate to be playing compare and context with these shows. And yet, it's easy to do so because of the multitude of projects in this vein over the past year. They've been popping up all over the place and have been doing the same things. Of course, audiences aren't going to be seeing all of these shows like critics are. The CBS audience probably won't even be aware that similar plots have been told over on NBC and History. The CBS brand is loyal and well-defined at this point. SEAL Team feels like a CBS procedural that isn't smug about what it is. That's been a very huge problem over the past few years. The network has just been churning out procedurals that play to their base and absolutely know it. They haven't been imaginative or original. It's the network and shows just assuming that the CBS audience will pay attention because they are still watching stories like NCIS and Criminal Minds. They haven't earned it. SEAL Team doesn't take the audience for granted and that's very much appreciated. It has confidence in its own abilities and hopes that that will be able to play to a broad audience that also connects with the brand CBS has made over the years.

But again, there are a lot of familiar elements to this show. I've complained about it with the other military shows this year. And I will complain about them here as well. But with SEAL Team, I've seen two episodes. That's more than most new broadcast network shows send out. So, CBS really wants this one to stand out and get good press. But it's still fundamentally a story about a team leader who refuses to deal with the psychological trauma he has endured on the job even though it has cost him his marriage and connection with his kids. He's only present in his life when he's out there in the field and not when he's at home in relative peace. Boreanaz does a nice job playing these elements. The show definitely has a more melancholy twinge to its storytelling. That feels both respectful and layered. It gives Boreanaz some material to actually work with. It gives his character, Jason Hayes, a full life. It presents a world outside of the job that is also influenced by it. But the plot beats are still incredibly predictable and manipulative. That's true elsewhere in the main story as well. Max Thieriot from Bates Motel plays the hotshot newcomer who is cocky and makes questionable judgments in the field. Neil Brown Jr. from Insecure plays the reliable best friend who is able to call out Jason for his angsty ways. And Jessica Paré from Mad Men plays the CIA case officer who basically informs the unit about each mission they are about to embark on. These characters are familiar archetypes. And yet, the actors do fill them with sparks of personality. That's encouraging. Through two episodes though, I really couldn't tell you what Toni Trucks or A.J. Buckley are doing here.

There's a strong and sturdy procedural at the heart of SEAL Team. After two episodes, I could be considered optimistic about its future. I like the credits in series creator Benjamin Cavell's background - which include Justified, Homeland and Sneaky Pete. Of course, he's showrunning this alongside Ed Redlich whose had a solid career working for long-running if not particularly notable CBS procedurals. Plus, this is a fall where not a lot of new shows have a lot of potential for success. On one hand, that's very disappointing because I'm still a proud supporter of the broadcast networks and what they do in this industry. On the other hand though, it could afford me the time and opportunity to catch up on the shows that I've missed throughout the year. It is the era of Peak TV after all. Shows need to have a solid vision and purpose right away in order to be considered for weekly viewing. SEAL Team has potential. It's the one military show you should consider watching. But it could just as easily fall out of the rotation as well because it's not finding itself fast enough.