Other Lives
Credit: Erik Voake/CBS

David Boreanaz leads a clandestine American-badass unit in the new CBS military procedural SEAL Team. The first episode is bookended by two stealth ops, a ship-to-ship gunfight and a night-vision snatch-and-grab. The tactical precision and comms-chatter banter suggests nothing so much as a direct adaptation of the Call of Duty multiplayer.

Which could work, really, especially with such a solid cast. Neil Brown Jr., so great on Insecure, is especially fun as a no-bull soldier with a baby on the way. Jessica Paré’s a bit stranded in the headset role, back at HQ with the live-video feeds and the computer readouts, but she looks tough looking at screens. (How many lead actors on network TV shows spend screen time looking at screens?) Max Thieriot brings a residual Bates Motel creep factor to the squad as a callow newbie, chip on his shoulder, finger on the trigger. Michael Rooker even pops by for a couple minutes, and we’ll never reach Peak Rooker, never ever, call your representatives to legislate Rooker cameos into every pilot in development.

But the show’s portrayal of modern warfare is too simplistic, as convincing as a gritty Army advertisement. The big case of the pilot involves a manhunt for an ISIL commander. But things take a wild turn into paranoid fantasy when it turns out said commander has taken an American woman hostage. There’s a bit of self-awareness here — a mention that “attractive Western females” are particularly high-valued as captives. (Fun fact: They’re also high-valued as victims on procedurals!) But there’s also a sense of complexity oozing into propaganda, a complicated view of international situations getting sandpapered into video-game binaries, morose good guy and looming bad guy.

The first few episodes are directed by Christopher Chulack, whose fluid and kinetic work gave ER and Southland a special luscious grit. Boreanaz looks suitably jacked as the lead SEAL Teamer, and a couple scenes with his family nudge toward the difficult personal cost of warfare. But then the show has Brown tell Boreanaz, “You might actually be the best damn gunfighter who ever lived. If not, you’re awfully close!” By then, SEAL Team‘s gone full jingo. B–

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