SEAL TEAM: Surprising Depth and Flair from CBS’ Latest Procedural Drama

On paper SEAL Team almost sounds like a TV show TV characters would watch, like “The Grinder: New Orleans” or The Good Wife’s “Darkness at Noon.”

Those shaky first impressions are not helped by the facts. SEAL Team is CBS’ latest drama, a weekly procedural about SEAL Team 6 (the SEAL Team other SEAL teams look to when things get really bad) an elite group who travel the world taking out dictators in countries that probably won’t be likely to complain to the network about how their people have been depicted on TV.

The team itself is comprised of thoughtfully diverse individuals even the CW would be proud of, and is headed up by a courageous, if somewhat irascible leader, played by a handsome, experienced and instantly recognizable male lead. So yes, on paper SEAL Team might be considered by some to be little more than CBS procedural fodder. However, you shouldn’t leave just yet because we’ve still got about 600 words to convince you there’s a lot more to this new show than those perhaps uninspiring first impressions might suggest.

At this time of the year I tend to spend a lot of time watching the first episodes of almost every new show about to hit the air. As much as I enjoy the task of reviewing and critiquing the fall slate, pilots are notoriously difficult things to judge. They are often heightened inspirational affairs that bear little resemblance to the episodes that follow, and they regularly make promises that if we’re lucky, we’ll only begin to see unboxed months from now, and if we’re unlucky, we won’t get to see at all.

However, among SEAL Team’s producers (including Benjamin Cavell, Ed Redlich, Sarah Timberman and Carl Beverly), is Christopher Chulack. Chulack, whose producing and directing credits (ER, Shameless, Southland, Third Watch) stand as a testament to his work, was responsible for directing the pilot episode you’ll see on September 27th, and his fingerprints are all over this first episode. And I mean in the best way possible. That Chulack directed the pilot (and other upcoming episodes) shows the team behind SEAL Team has a clear vision for what they want the show to look and feel like months from now. His trademark documentary style of film-making, shaky cam work, and cleverly integrated flashbacks point to a director/producer who is a master at depicting flawed, multi-dimensional characters set against the backdrop of a grueling work environment.

At the heart of the series is Jason Hayes, the well respected leader of the tier one team we mentioned above. Hayes is played by the eminently capable David Boreanaz,who many will know from FOX’s long running series Bones. Here, Boreanaz strikes a more serious tone as a man whose violent past experiences have deeply wounded his ability to lead a normal life. Deeply intense, quick to anger, and tightly wound, Hayes is unable to come to terms with all he has experienced, and has suffered personally as a result. So much so, we half expect him to come undone before he gets the job done … although we know he will get the job done regardless. This fragile but determined character is less a direct antithesis to Bones’ Seeley Booth, and more a showcase of the other strings to Boreanaz’ bow. Both performance and casting are spot on.

In Hayes’ orbit are his various teammates: trusted confidant, Ray (Neil Brown Jr.), the longest-tenured operator, and Sonny (AJ Buckley), an exceptional, loyal soldier with a checkered past who still combats self-destructive tendencies. Undergoing additional rigorous training in the hope of joining Hayes’ select unit is Clay Spenser (Max Thieriot), a young, multi-lingual second generation SEAL with insatiable drive and dedication, and CIA analyst Mandy Ellis (Jessica ParĂ©), who has sacrificed everything in her drive to root out evil and take down terrorists. The team is held together by Davis (Toni Trucks), a no-nonsense, take-charge logistics officer and unofficial den mother who is responsible for outfitting the team with the necessary gear for each mission.

SEAL Team’s premiere presents a unit with character interactions so nuanced you might be forgiven for thinking you’ve tuned in to a long running series that has had years in which to polish up its various character relationships. The pilot episode makes no apology for the nods, code words, silences, looks, and complex shorthand that go hand in glove with a group of people who have known each other for a very long time. You’ll feel like the new guy as you learn to navigate the various relationships on screen. With little spelled out, it’s up to the viewer to pay attention, but honestly? The show is all the better for it. How infinitely favorable to be dropped in the middle of the action than to spend 20 minutes of a 43 minute episode suffocating in exposition. Even a potentially tension-draining flashback scene is served sliced and diced between layers of action and an exploration of guilt.

We were initially curious as to why CBS made the scheduling decision to shunt Criminal Minds aside to make room for SEAL TEAM in the 9 pm time-slot. Now we know why. Overall, there’s a sense of confidence, flair and competent execution to CBS’ new series that might just prompt other by-rote weekly procedurals to sit up and take notes.

SEAL Team premieres on Wednesday, Sept. 27 (9:00-10:00 PM, ET/PT) on CBS.

ScreenSpy Score: B

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