Imagine that you are a television executive, and you want people to watch your new primetime show about a “tier one” Navy SEAL element. You order the usual publicizing, send the actors out to appear on morning and late night television shows, advertise in the appropriate newspapers and magazines, and air the necessary commercials to generate interest.
Then someone in your office suggests maybe reaching out to the growing community of veterans out there in television-viewing land, to see what they think. Someone else then goes on to suggest maybe previewing the show for a website run by Navy SEALs and other special operations veterans. Surely, an executive must have had some second thoughts about such a plan, perhaps thinking to his or herself, “what if they hate it and trash it?”
In other words, it is a bold move providing a preview of a show about the Navy SEALs to a website like SOFREP. It could feasibly result in a terrible review, and an admonition from the website’s former special operations veterans to avoid such ridiculous crap at all costs. To overcome that hesitation, said television executives must have had at least one key factor weighing in on their decision to go ahead and do it: confidence in the quality of the show.
Thus we arrive at the new CBS primetime drama, “SEAL Team,” which will begin airing at 9 PM EST on CBS starting September 27th. Your trusted author will be up front with you: publicists from the network reached out to SOFREP (and no doubt other outlets within our lane) and asked us to preview the show. They easily could have skipped such a step, if they thought it likely that SOFREP would trash the show. However, they did not. They clearly had confidence in the pilot episode, and wanted to get our take on it (and no doubt have us bring them some viewers).
Well, the assignment for this review fell to yours truly, as one of the resident former Navy SEALs on staff at SOFREP. I will once again be honest: I did not go into the preview expecting great (or even good) things. It is hard to make movies or shows about the special operations community and/or the CIA that are both faithful to reality and entertaining. There is no avoiding that fact. I am sure there are also plenty of doctors and lawyers out there who scoff at all the procedural legal and medical shows on network television. Yet, those are some of the most-viewed shows on television. It is a conundrum, to be sure.
And don’t even get me started on shows like “Chicago Fire,” or the countless movies about firefighters. It is the same phenomenon: some are atrocious, while others are entertaining. Few are ever truly accurate depictions of the lifestyle and work of a firefighter.
So, with all of that said, your author went in to the preview thinking that this show would be pretty terrible. Guess what, though? “SEAL Team” is pretty solid. Sure, it had some of the usual flaws always present in shows and movies dealing with the subject matter. When all was said and done, though, the pilot episode presented some compelling characters, a realistic plot, some pretty good action sequences, and just about the right mix of military lingo and jargon to seem authentic without over-doing it.
“SEAL Team” purports to depict the professional and personal lives of the members of a tier one SEAL unit operating on behalf of modern-day War-on-Terrorism America. It stars the guy from “Bones” — David Boreanaz, who surely hates that moniker by now — as a much-respected SEAL Senior Chief named Jason Hayes, who leads his small SEAL element in an operation to capture an HVT (high value target) in Monrovia, Liberia.
Meanwhile, we are introduced to the other members of the SEAL team, primarily by way of a dog handler named Quinn; Hayes’ closest confidant, named Ray Perry; and the aspiring new guy to the unit, a SEAL Team 3 operator named Clay Spenser, who is going through Green Team to be selected to the tier one element. The pilot plants the seeds of future complex dynamics and tensions within the team, and does a good job of avoiding falling into the usual “SEAL movie” traps.
For example, though there are a few cheesy lines –“We got this!” and “Let’s do this!” — the show does a decently good job with the military lingo. There is no overbearing patriotic speeches before or during missions, no overwrought dramatic soliloquies on the field of battle, nor are there the usual robo-speak operators who sound like inhuman killing machines straight out of a bad 1980’s sci-fi movie. The pilot is also refreshingly free of politics, pointedly not having the operators weigh in on the politics of the day.
“SEAL Team” also depicts drama within the family lives of the main characters, as Hayes, particularly, struggles with his marriage and being present for his children, presumably due to his ridiculous deployment cycle. One guesses that this will be a recurring (and realistic) theme throughout the show.
As far as the other elements that the show gets right — or at least right enough to classify as such — there is the separation/tension between tier one elements and the rest of the SEAL Teams; the cohesion within the “tier one” element between the SEALs and the straphangers (mostly non-SEAL support personnel and CIA liaison officers); and the disdain that the “new guy” experiences from the other SEALs because his SEAL father had the gumption to write a book about the SEAL Teams.
Those are all more or less accurate themes or currents within the community, and they are treated pretty well (so far) in the pilot episode. There is also a refreshing lack of ridiculous verbal bravado and hero-depiction, in that the SEALs are pretty much depicted as just normal dudes looking to successfully complete their operation and get home to their families.
As far as some of the negatives go, the show cribbed shamelessly from the movie “Navy SEALs” with its command pager interruption of a First Communion ceremony, though that might have been a tongue-and-cheek wink-and-a-nod to that now-cheesetastic classic. It is also a bit jarring to see the Green Team candidate mouthing off to the “Big Chief” of the training cadre (Michael Rooker of “Walking Dead” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” fame), but I am sure that has probably happened in real life once or twice, so, whatever.
All in all, though, this author would recommend checking out CBS’ “SEAL Team.” It looks like it will try to faithfully depict realistic special operations missions and tactics, the family dynamics facing many of the operators, and the intra-team relationships within a unit of America’s special operations community. That is about all you can ask for in a military drama, and “SEAL Team” seems on track to deliver.
Images courtesy of CBS.