Hit or Sh**: USA’s SHOOTER
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**.
I can’t imagine that SHOOTER’s production was a particularly pleasant experience for anyone attached to it. In a cultural climate where mass shootings have reached all time highs and nerves are running thin, it’s no surprise that such an unfortunately titled show was pushed back nearly four months. But this is a show coming from none other than Mark Wahlberg himself, dammit! With such a pedigree of quality TV productions under his belt, is it so much to assume that Marky Mark can also lend his good vibrations to this latest small screen adaptation?
SHOOTER sets its stage almost exactly the same way as the Wahlberg film did. Bob Lee Swagger (Ryan Phillipe), an ex-Marine sniper and holder of what is perhaps the best name ever, is hired by his old commander, Johnson (Omar Epps), to help protect the president following a death threat from Swagger’s nemesis, Solotov. When the Commander-in-Chief is killed by an impossible shot, Swagger realizes that Johnson set him up as a patsy and that the real threat resides within the government itself.
But that’s Bob Lee’s fault for not reading the inside job clause
The pilot is almost a mirror match of the film’s first act, ending the moment the president dies and Swagger begins his escape from the authorities. Inventions to give the series greater breadth include Swagger’s wife and daughter (Shantel VanSanten and Lexy Kolker, respectively) as well as the Chechen boogeyman Solotov. While the Swagger clan’s utility in the pilot doesn’t extend beyond highlighting what a nice, upstanding guy Bob Lee is, the inclusion of Solotov is rather intriguing. Whether Solotov proves to be a formidable villain or simply a red herring invented by Johnson remains to be seen, but it is quickly becoming clear that SHOOTER’s conspiracy-laden story is better suited to long form television than a feature film.
Also carrying over from the film is FBI Agent Memphis (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), a young rookie who is the first to notice something amiss when Bob Lee’s name appears on a watchlist prior to the POTUS’s assassination. Though the hapless Memphis (played by Michael Pena) was the highlight of the film, Addai-Robinson is barely given room to breathe in the pilot, aside from a brief moment in which Johnson sabotages her investigation. And while the purpose of both iterations of the character is to represent how minority talent is often swept under the rug in the white, male dominated world of federal agencies, Memphis could have been afforded a bit more relevance in this SHOOTER’s plot.
When they told her “you’ll get your chance some day,” she thought it was a line, not placating
Being a USA joint, SHOOTER enjoys fairly impressive production values. Ignoring one embarrassing tracking shot of a CG bullet in flight, the show looks alright. It’s true that the lighting leaves something to be desired, to the point where I think the overcast Seattle setting was chosen to excuse the production rather than the other way around, but the rest of the work behind the camera gets the job done. Sets are rather elaborate, and the pilot takes us through a diverse list of backdrops, ranging from a Russian bathhouse to a military outpost in Afghanistan. Montages are regularly but tastefully utilized, which gives the show a far more clever feel than the meat-headed source material. And lastly, tame but realistic gore is something of a rarity nowadays, what with GAME OF THRONES and THE WALKING DEAD constantly trying to out-shock the other, but the way SHOOTER manages to pull it off is positively refreshing.
With Bob Lee’s unapologetic Christian values, impressive gun collection, and general contempt for city slickers, SHOOTER is sure to leave a foul taste in the mouths of some liberal audiences. This should come as no surprise from a show on the USA network about a guy named Bob Lee Swagger, but it warrants mentioning nonetheless. That being said, if SHOOTER takes as cynical a look at both the police and military as the film did (and this very much seems to be the case), then it would be irresponsible to dismiss it out of hand on a political level. For each scene of a character saying grace, there’s another of a sinister right-winger engaging in a terrorist plot to get more funding. Of course, it’s hard to judge a series’s intent from its pilot episode, but so far, SHOOTER doesn’t appear to be the gun nut manifesto that so many predicted it would be.
Guys, I just wanna eat some Panda in peace
Like any sniper worth their salt, SHOOTER takes its time in setting up its shot. While it’s not saying much, SHOOTER is nonetheless shaping up to be far more competent than its big screen namesake. Whether or not that’s enough is the question. If SHOOTER can effectively use its eclectic array of tools for good, not evil, then we might be in for some good winter television. If not, well, there’s always WAHLBURGERS.
Verdict: Sh** Probation
SHOOTER airs on Tuesdays on USA