[This is a review of the season 2 premiere of Shooter. There will be SPOILERS.]
Based on the mildly successful Mark Wahlberg film of the same name and the much more respected source novel Point of Impact by Stephen Hunter, USA Network's series Shooter largely succeeded in its rookie season by sticking to its guns (as it were). Fashioning itself as an old-fashioned thriller, the show gave fans of classic action films a comforting and familiar flavor: B-movie stylings, a likable hero and plenty of bad guys for him to shoot at (and most of the time, run from). That's all to say, that -- aside from moments when the show attempted some complex plot twists -- Shooter remained true to the identity it presented viewers with initially throughout its first season.
So, as one might imagine, the challenge coming into season 2 was finding a way to retain that style and feel while upping the ante and intensifying the action. And based on what we saw in the season premiere, 'The Hunting Party', it certainly appears the series is on the right track.
Instead of beginning with some exposition to tell us where the story currently is, the show opted to throw its audience and its characters right back into the fray, opening the new season with an action sequence featuring mysterious gunmen dressed as police officers attacking innocent attendees at a military award ceremony in a hotel banquet room. The chaotic scene left several civilians and a few villains (courtesy of our of hero, Ryan Phillippe's Bob Lee Swagger) dead before we even had a chance to get our bearings, reminding us that in Bob Lee's world, danger can strike at any moment (even though he later assures Shantel VanSanten's Julie that dealing with such an event isn't normal for anyone, even him).
This in medias res storytelling approach certainly achieves its intended effect, as we're helplessly sucked back into the show's narrative, wondering what exactly is going on here. Who were those men? Were they after Bob Lee? And if so, why?
The premiere ends up answering some of those questions, in part, but before doing so, spends some time getting the audience caught up to speed. As it turns out, the season picks up about a year after season 1 ended, with Bob Lee free and clear of the Ukrainian president's assassination, but obviously in the crosshairs of a new adversary, whom we see in later scenes stalking not only Bob Lee, but also members of his former military unit a night before the attack at the hotel. Of course, the identity of the gunman and the motivations behind his actions are only mysteries for now -- ones that will surely be solved as the season rolls along.
And so, from the outset, it certainly appears the narrative formula from season 1 hasn't changed. Not only is the set-up familiar (simply replace Lon Scott from last season with this new villain), but the trope of the hunter becoming the hunted is once again in play (as the episode ends with an unnecessary cheesy line from Swagger stating that obvious fact). While we fully expect the dynamics around who is exactly hunting whom will flip back and forth as the cat-and-mouse game between Swagger and his enemies plays out, we can also safely predict the show will throw in a couple of plot curveballs to keep audiences guessing, as it did last season.
However, that's not to say that keeping the same formula is a bad thing. After all, season 1 of Shooter was at its best when it kept things simple and refrained from trying to do too much when it came to story. Although it may not be the smartest, most interesting or original storyline on television, the narrative presented in season 2 has already done a good job at drawing its audience in with a mystery that's compelling enough for viewers to continue with the show. Now, it simply has to deliver what its audience is truly looking for: satisfying action complemented by some emotional character drama.
And when it comes to character drama, that's an element of the show that Shooter appears to be actively striving to improve upon this season. Not only did the premiere take some time to provide insight on Isaac (Omar Epps) and Memphis' (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) current situations, but it also took a thoughtful look into Julie's mindset after the attack, as she experiences a PTSD-like flashback to the events of season 1. Despite Bob Lee's assurances to keep his family safe, she -- like any rational person under such frequent duress -- has to be wondering if she and her daughter will ever be able to feel like they are completely out of harm's way. And there's no doubt that this anxiety will create some strain and tension in her relationship with Bob Lee. Needless to say, we'll be interested to see exactly how that anxiety manifests itself going forward.
On the whole, Shooter is still solid genre television with refreshingly modest ambitions. Instead of breaking the mold, it is continuing to play to the strengths that made it appealing last season. So, even though the promise to deliver more action and more excitement is one we hear from virtually every show like Shooter coming into its second season, there's no reason to think it won't deliver.
Shooter season 2 continues next Tuesday with 'Remember the Alamo' @10pm on USA Network.
Photos: Isabella Voskmikova and Dean Buscher/USA Network