Hit or Sh**: NBC’s THE BRAVE
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
Insert something about network television. Insert a pithy comparison to prestige television. Insert something about it being pilot season and wading into the mire. There, I’ve pulled back the veil on how I write Hit or Sh** intros. Let’s get to the nitty-gritty.
In the wartorn hotbed of Northern Syria, Dr. Kimberly Wells (Alex Wilton Regan) works as an ophthalmologist for Doctors Without Borders. Wouldn’t you know it, those dastardly bastards of the Al-Nusra Front, otherwise known as the much less glamorous “al-Qaeda in Syria,” don’t much care what peaceful faction you represent, and perform a vicious sting operation that leaves her kidnapped. It’s then up to Defense Intelligence Agency Alpha Daddy Adam Dalton (Mike Vogel) to get his team of special ops whip-smart and ship-shape. Under the carefully calculated command of Deputy Director Patricia Campbell (Anne Heche), CPO Ezekiel “Preach” Carter (Demetrius Grosse), sniper Jasmine “Jaz” Khan (Natacha Karam), combat medic Joseph J. “McG” McGuire (Noah Mills), and newbie Amir Al-Raisani (Hadi Tabbal) must bust in and retrieve her.
I really wanted to hate THE BRAVE. I don’t like the films of Kathryn Bigelow, I didn’t have high hopes for this kind of layered political conflict to be handled adequately by the likes of NBC, and I really don’t think our culture needs to be inundated with images of military glorification at this delicate point in our nation’s history. And yet, against all odds . . . it did, in fact, manage to mildly entertain me. Read the plot summary above: this is about as complex of a narrative as a picture book at Kindergarten storytime. This was more than teed up to be entirely dead in the water, but to the show’s credit, it absolutely knows what it is and doesn’t waste an iota of time getting to the juiciest cuts of meat it can muster. If the show is already forcing me to assume that the interests of the American troops are what’s best, if absolutely no attempt is made to give context to the larger conflict at hand, and if I just have to take the fact that all the portrayed Syrians are either antagonists or people for the Americans to help, well, you might as well show me the shooty men try to kill the other shooty men.
And in that regard, THE BRAVE delivers. The entirety of the one-hour pilot feels like the third act of the myriad B-level military thrillers out there, doing away almost entirely with time spent on subplots and the inter-personal relationships of characters. For most other shows that would be a definitive mark against, but I wasn’t expecting emotionally evocative and terse drama from an NBC shoot-em-up, and by focusing on the admittedly high-octane and exciting cinematography and editing, topped off with the requisite scenes of everyone screaming at the top of their lungs almost constantly, you almost can’t help but get a little jazzed up. And believe me, I’m entirely correct; every line of banter that’s shoehorned in in THE BRAVE’s pilot is a tonal road bump, jarring you out of whatever begrudgingly invested haze the constant tension rocketed you into. A scene around the eight-minute mark between McG and Preach on a roof is all you need to see for my words to ring true. If you still don’t believe me, check out the scene between Jaz and Adam in a car where Adam tries to gruffly stumble around his respect for Jaz as a female soldier.
Further to its credit, THE BRAVE’s pilot does feature a nice twist that both manages to humanize the up-until-that-point entirely unrepentant baddies and throw a wrench in the gears of the plot. I won’t spoil it for you, but there’s an underlying reason as to why the Al-Nusra Front is interested in Kimberly Wells, and it might not necessarily be to wish harm upon her. In addition, there are implications of tension and intrigue revolving around Amir that I’m sure will be teased out in later episodes: an ISIS deep counterintelligence agent, Amir is already butting heads with the other, less religiously tolerant members of the team, and I would place money on there being accusations of betrayal that come about further down the line.
If we’re lucky, we’ll have to sit through the tech nerds starting an awkward romance!
I’ve mostly been praising THE BRAVE, but I should temper that by saying that it is still generally milquetoast. There’s no way around the fact that it shakes out almost exactly as you’d expect, and if you’ve seen something like THE HURT LOCKER, as middling as I may personally find it, I’m not exactly sure why you’d place an hour of your valuable time at the foot of the NBC altar each week. That’s not to mention that it has the potential for ideological danger, even if it’s not necessarily fully manifested within the pilot. We don’t need more images of brown people from the Middle East where the assumption is that they’re the villains. We don’t need to rabblerouse more militaristic support amongst the impressionable youth. We don’t need to glamorize what are ultimately dangerous manifestations of systemic and cultural violence.
But I’m nothing if not a moral swamp ground in terms of the media I consume, so hey, if the shooty men keep shooting in progressively more creative ways in future episodes of THE BRAVE . . .
Verdict: Sh** Probation
THE BRAVE airs on NBC on Mondays