Loosely based on the 70’s television series and also the 2003 Michael Bay movie, S.W.A.T. comes to CBS in November in weekly procedural form.
This latest incarnation sees the capable Shemar Moore taking over the role of former Marine Daniel “Hondo” Harrelson, played by Samuel L. Jackson in the movie (and Steve Forrest, back in the 1975 TV series, if you’re really interested in going back that far).
Moore’s Hondo is suddenly thrust into the spotlight when he is given the onerous job of commanding a specialized tactical unit, dubbed the last stop in law enforcement in Los Angeles, following his boss’ firing for an on-the-job shooting of a young back teen. Despite having the respect of his team, locally born Hondo now finds himself torn between loyalty to the streets where he was raised and allegiance to his brothers in blue.
Hondo’s unit includes Deacon Kay (Jay Harrington), an experienced S.W.A.T. officer who feels, rather justifiably, overlooked for the lead job, Jim Street (Alex Russell), a cocky young rookie who gets off on the wrong foot with his new team, Chris Alonso (Lina Esco), the team’s canine trainer, and Dominique Luca (Kenny Johnson), an expert driver.
Overseeing things is Jessica Cortez (Stephanie Sigman), the captain of L.A. Metro who values her job above all else, and who would prefer if her secret relationship with Hondo remained just that.
Set against a backdrop of simmering racial tension, S.W.A.T. has all the ingredients with which to craft a provocative exploration of modern race relations, or at least a gritty up-close look at local law enforcement on the streets of Los Angeles. Instead it does neither, choosing somewhat disappointingly (but perhaps predictably) to to tread familiar procedural ground instead. When a white cop shoots a young black teen it’s accidentally. When a crowd of #BlackLivesMatter protestors gather on the streets it’s because they don’t fully understand what really went down. When the LAPD sweep the streets and round up suspects — all of them young black men — Hondo diffuses the situation by promising their families they’ll all be ok. In the world of SWAT, there’s nothing that can’t be fixed by the commanding and reassuring presence of Hondo Harrelson — which is just as well, as Moore is in just about every scene.
OK, so if S.W.A.T. is not exactly The Wire, then what is it? Simply put it’s comfortable Thursday night case-of-the-week drama — car chases, and explosions, and maverick rookies breaking rules and taking chances. it’s the familiar, safe and reassuring presence of Hondo, quietly fixing things and helping good, honest folks out of a tight spot. It’s international bad guys who must be stopped at all costs! It’s shootouts in abandoned warehouses on the edge of town. It’s team bonding, as Hondo’s gang gathers after work (and I have no idea why; don’t these people have homes to go to?) in an abandoned building to blow off steam, drink, play golf, shoot their guns at the golf balls, and awkwardly tell each other how they feel about life.
If you like NCIS, Criminal Minds, Hawaii Five-0, and CBS’ other cop/detective dramas, then you’ll find a lot to like about SWAT too. Moore has leading man written all over him and tends to ground his scenes with a sense of gravitas and meaning that definitely helps keep the show on the rails. The dialogue is not too wince-worthy either, and if you can forgive the impetuous rookie cheekily defying orders but getting the job done anyway cliché (nearly every military procedural has one this year) and squint past the odd moments that defy plausibility (do they rent space in that abandoned building? Does it have electricity? Is there a toilet?) then the action sequences more than make up for S.W.A.T.’s other shortcomings.
Overall, despite squandering an opportunity to offer more meaningful political commentary, S.W.A.T. is a confident hour of TV imbued with just enough swagger to keep fans of the genre invested over the weeks to come.
ScreenSpy Score: C+
S.W.A.T. Premieres Thursday, Nov. 2, 2017 (10:00-11:00 PM, ET/PT) on CBS.