Despite star Shemar Moore, CBS' S.W.A.T. fails to offer much beyond the typical police procedural, something the network already has in abundance.
Those hoping that the CBS remake of '70s cop show S.W.A.T. will offer anything new in terms of how a police procedural handles itself will likely want to continue looking elsewhere. For those who find the CBS brand of cop shows and procedural offerings to be the television version of comfort food, especially when they mix in a heavy dose of action, they will likely find exactly what they’re looking for. While that's not exactly the kind of glowing praise most networks hope for when launching a high-profile new show, it's the unfortunate result of a series that settles for performing at the same level as any other procedural on the network.
When it comes to S.W.A.T., the lack of inventiveness in its presentation and apparent aspiration to be more than another run-of-the-mill cop show is more disappointing considering it stars former Criminal Minds actor Shemar Moore, and is executive produced by The Shield creator Shawn Ryan. Moreover, the pilot episode has a blockbuster-like sheen from frequent Fast and the Furious director Justin Lin, whose visual touches make the first outing promising from an action standpoint. But the heavy emphasis on shootouts and high-speed chases eventually undercuts the show's frankly clumsy efforts to touch on matters like police shootings and especially the Black Lives Matter movement – both of which feature prominently in the first hour.
It isn't surprising that a new cop show would want to address these matters upfront, particularly when it's asking viewers to root for cops the series wants to see as straightforward, relatively uncomplicated heroes. But S.W.A.T. does so unconvincingly in the pilot episode, beginning the hour with a frenetic chase and shootout that results in an unarmed black man being shot, and then using that as the inciting incident for an unpersuasive examination of the departmental politics and infighting that relies too heavily on cop show clichés – rival squads vying for their time in the spotlight. None of it hits nearly hard enough post-Ferguson and the countless other police shootings and allegations of brutality that have happened since, and the result is that S.W.A.T.'s attempts to address these issues come across as somewhat insincere when it inevitably falls back on tried-and-true CBS cop show formulas.
Though the show is fitted with a serviceable cast that includes, Kenny Johnson (The Shield, Bates Motel), Jay Harrington (Better off Ted), Lina Esco (Kingdom), and Alex Russell (Chronicle), as hotshot newcomer Street, it turns entirely on the presence of Moore. Moore's Hondo is the sort of steadfast lead these shows rely on, and in this particular case, is the embodiment of the hero the show is striving to present.
There is a good chance that for many watching, S.W.A.T. will be more an update on the 2003 feature film starring Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Farrell, and a then relatively unknown Jeremy Renner, than it is a modernization of the 1970s TV series of the same name. To that end, Moore's iteration of Hondo will likely come across as a major departure from the one Jackson portrayed nearly 15 years ago. Gone is the rebellious streak and charming insolence in the face of bureaucratic authority that keeps the good guys from taking down the bad guys, and in its place is a more level-headed tactician (both in and out of uniform) who is painfully cognizant just how scrutinized he and his team are by not only their bosses, but also the people they're sworn to protect. That creates another familiar dynamic, as Street is frequently running off half-cocked and demonstrating an inability to comprehend the phrase "No I in team," until he gets a stern talkin' to by Hondo.
Despite strong hints at his eventual prominence within the series, Street is by no means a well-drawn character in the pilot. The rest of the cast is similarly thinly sketched; with Esco and Johnson getting a few moments here and there to remind viewers they're on Hondo's team. It's easy to let some of that slide, considering this is just the pilot episode, but in terms of establishing an active team dynamic that's elevated by a group of interesting characters, S.W.A.T.'s debut is certainly not an auspicious one.
It stands to reason that with Ryan operating behind the scenes, the series may eventually find its footing and figure out what kind of cop show it wants to (or actually can) be. Right now, the balance between attempts at social relevance and high-octane action doesn't quite work, and in the interim the show is too reliant on procedural banalities to feel fresh or exciting. In the end, S.W.A.T. just doesn't do enough with its premise to completely justify this update.
S.W.A.T. continues next Thursday with 'Chuchillo' @10pm on CBS.