The CW's Valor works hard to establish a compelling military drama, but still seems destined to miss with the network's audience.
When The CW announced that it would fall in line with NBC and CBS and deliver a military drama for the 2017 fall TV season with Valor it heralded a potential change for the network that has been associated mainly with DC Comics over the last few years. Shows like Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl have become The CW's identity to a certain degree, while the long-running Supernatural and critical darlings/award-winners (Golden Globes, but still) Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Jane the Virgin are still around to service the interests of those who are maybe only tangentially interested in the geek-friendly line up the network has been offering. As such, the move to offer a military drama is a notable departure, one that makes even the Dynasty reboot seem less risky by comparison.
CW president Mike Pedowitz has been working to get a military drama on the network for several years now, and the choice to make Valor, a drama about U.S. Army helicopter pilots who find themselves embroiled in a conspiracy following a mission that went completely awry, the network's first foray into the subgenre an interesting one. For one thing, Valor is late to the party; NBC already launched The Brave and CBS SEAL Team, meaning The CW is entering into a marketplace that may already be saturated with military dramas. And Valor is airing the same night as The Brave, which even with the lead-in of Supergirl might not be a match for NBC's The Voice in terms of bringing in viewers. There's a good chance those who are looking forward to seeing the Girl of Steel return for season 3 will stick around for the premiere of Valor, after all, it also features a strong female lead with Christina Ochoa, who was most recently seen in SYFY's one-and-done grindhouse series Blood Drive. But it seems questionable whether or not that audience will stick around after the somewhat disappointing and muddled pilot episode.
The problems with Valor's pilot stem largely from how many threads it attempts to weave into the series' tapestry, and how amorphous the show ultimately feels as a result. The opens with the story of a secret mission in Somalia flown by an elite U.S. Army group known as the Shadow Raiders that ends disastrously and leaves only Warrant Officer Nora Madani (Ochoa) and Captain Leland Gallo (Matt Barr) alive. The two leave behind one of their team members, Jimmy Kam (W. Tre' Davis), who falls into the hands of a group of terrorists. Following a time jump, the pilot moves back to the States, where Nora is recovering from her injuries – both physically and psychologically – while also dealing with the secret she and Gallo have been keeping about the truth surrounding their failed mission.
It's a solid premise that feels almost like The CW was hoping for a cross between the first season of Homeland and the network's soapy dramas like One Tree Hill, Gossip Girl, and the like. There's some genuine intrigue with regard to the man Nora and Gallow left behind, and the show even generates interest in getting Nora back in the cockpit. But the pilot continues to add elements that the story's mostly solid foundation just isn't equipped to handle. Valor attempts to blend its military storyline and conspiracy with a half-baked psychological drama that's further complicated by Nora and Gallo's torrid love affair that has them keeping yet another secret, this time from her boyfriend Ian (Charlie Barnett). All the secret-keeping works to generate intrigue at first glance, but without the audience really knowing who these characters are or why they should care about them, the intrigue is quickly proven to be fairly shallow.
It's clear that Valor intends there to be high stakes all around, as that's one of the appeals of military dramas. But in fashioning the series to fit in with The CW's more teen-friendly content, something gets lost in translation. The addition of Nora and Gallo's comrade-in-arms affair complicates matters for both characters, but as is so often the case with television dramas, complication doesn't necessarily result in complexity. To make matters worse, though they are both well suited to the show's soapier aspects – particularly the scene where Nora and Gallo seek catharsis by smashing some drywall with a sledgehammer – Ochoa and Barr aren't quite as convincing as a pair of elite U.S. Army helicopter pilots.
For whatever reason, the suspending of disbelief required to invest in either lead as actual soldiers feels like a step too far. Given the kind of programming The CW is known for, perhaps that's what stymied previous efforts to bring a military drama to the network. There's no reason a military drama can't be blended with a soapy melodrama, but Valor doesn't seem to have the right formula just yet. Perhaps it will work things out as the series progresses, but then again, perhaps it will mean the network president's dream of having a military drama on his schedule will have to wait a bit longer.
Valor continues next Monday with 'Espirit de Corps' @9pm on The CW.