• SEAL Team Is a Sloppy, Confusing Action Series (CBS)

    by  • September 13, 2017 • CBS, Paleyfest 2017 Reviews, Profanity, Violence • 2 Comments

    SEALTeam

    This incoherent, badly-made, and ultra-violent war series isn’t worth viewers’ time.

    Like the Army’s Green Berets and Delta Force, the U.S. Navy SEALs (SEa, Air, Land) teams are legendary for taking on special operations requiring extraordinary ability, intelligence, and tactical skill…and CBS’s new series utterly fails to do them justice.

    The names of the show’s characters weren’t used in this review, because nowhere in the first episode is any character’s name clearly stated. The Lead SEAL is a Senior Chief, he has a sidekick who argues with him occasionally (and whose wife is pregnant), and the team newbie’s father was also a SEAL who apparently wrote a book that irritated someone, and the Lead SEAL doesn’t like him as a result.

    That is about all one can gather about the people one spends the first episode watching. Yes, a few minutes on Google would reveal the names of the show’s characters; but if one is forced to do internet research simply to find out the name of the character whose adventures one is watching, somebody at the network isn’t doing their job. If CBS can’t even be bothered to clearly state the characters’ names, they can’t really expect viewers to care enough to go looking for them, unless the program is exceptionally compelling. And SEAL Team isn’t.

    It is instructive to contrast CBS’ SEAL Team with NBC’s The Brave, also a new series this fall, and also built around a Special Ops team tasked with covert military operations. In fact, in their first episodes, both shows even have identical plots: a blonde American woman is taken captive by Middle Eastern terrorists, and the  team is tasked with retrieving the hostage, while simultaneously taking out a major terrorist leader. When watched back-to-back, it becomes obvious that The Brave is by far the superior series.

    SEAL Team opens with a mission containing lots of explosions and gunfire, but the objective of the mission, or the identities of the people carrying it out, are never clearly stated. One of the members of the team dies on the mission. The program then shows the Lead SEAL talking to (or rather, refusing to talk to) a therapist, and avoiding discussing his feelings about his teammate’s death. He then attends the dead team member’s son’s first communion (with some gratuitous anti-Catholic bigotry slipped into the dialogue). Another team member says goodbye to his pregant wife.The newbie participates in an exercise, and demonstrates that he is a smart alec. Yet at the end of all these turgid, time-wasting vignettes, the viewer still doesn’t know the characters’ names, ranks, or jobs on the team. Thus, the show opens with a (literal) bang, but nothing is explained, and then the action slows to a crawl for “character” moments that do little to actually expand character, but do a lot to eat up episode running time.

    By contrast, events are set in motion in the first minute of The Brave, and continue in a rush almost in real time, but without any diversions away from the mission. Yet, even with its faster pacing, The Brave clearly delineates the names, ranks, and jobs of each member of the team, with each individual also given a moment or two which defines their characterization (the communications expert is a Bible-quoting Christian, the infiltrator is a practicing Muslim, the director in DC recently lost her son in a military conflict, and so forth).

    The plotting on The Brave is also superior; each commercial break is preceded with a sudden, unexpected twist in the plot, which adds to the show’s suspense. On SEAL Team, the team seems to lurch about incoherently, with an inordinate amount of time spent showing members creeping down stairs and through tunnels, but without clearly establishing what the possible perils might be.

    Finally, on The Brave, both the mission bosses in Washington and the members of the commando team seem genuinely intelligent, able to both make a coherent plan (one carefully explained to the audience through exposition, so that viewers can easily follow what is happening, and thus why it is bad when things go wrong), and skilled at improvising (again explaining how they’re “making it up as they go,” thus raising the stakes for the viewer). By contrast, the members of the SEAL Team make cryptic, unexplained references to things not clearly conveyed to the viewer, and constantly spout military jargon. It may be accurate military jargon, but that doesn’t help the vast majority of audience members who have never served in the military, and thus are unfamiliar with military phrases. (By episode’s end, most viewers could be forgiven for thinking that “Strap” is the new team member’s actual last name, since he’s called that incessantly throughout the episode, but with only one brief, easily-missed explanation as to why.)

    As with The Brave, violence is frequent and extremely graphic, from massive amounts of gunfire to explicit scenes of terrorists being shot in the head, with blood and brains spraying out. Profanity is also frequent, with “son of a bitch,” “bastard,” and variations on “ass,” most common. There was no sexual content in the first episode.

    Of the three military Special Ops shows premiering this fall (including CW’s entry in the genre, Valor) SEAL Team is definitely the least. All the shows are extremely violent; but at least The Brave makes sense.

    SEAL Team premieres Wednesday, September 27 at 9:00 p.m. ET on CBS.

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    Christopher Gildemeister is the PTC’s Head of Research Operations. He began as an Entertainment Analyst at the PTC in 2005. From 2007-2016, he was Senior Writer/Editor, responsible for communicating the PTC’s message to the public through newsletters, columns, and the PTC Watchdog blog. Dr. Gildemeister holds a Ph.D. from The Catholic University of America.

    2 Responses to SEAL Team Is a Sloppy, Confusing Action Series (CBS)

    1. GA
      September 13, 2017 at 9:30 pm

      You are 100% right when you say “The Brave” is the better TV show, because it has more character development and a more intelligently crafted screenplay.

      But what’s so bad about “explicit scenes of terrorists being shot in the head, with blood and brains spraying out”? They’re terrorists, for crying out loud! If this was a documentary instead of a fictional show, and one of those terrorists was responsible for the death of someone close to you, don’t you think seeing said terrorists getting shot in the head would make you feel happy? Or at least relieved that those evil monsters would never be able to hurt anyone again? When Navy Seal Team Six blew Osama Bin Laden’s brains out back in May 2011, we never got to see video footage of the raid taking place. And because of that, there are many people who think that the U.S. military made the whole thing up and that Bin Laden is actually still alive.

      Now I’m not saying that such footage should be released, if it exists. I have a lot of respect for the U.S. military and I am confident that any and all secrets they keep are kept for very good reasons. So because we cannot see actual footage of Navy Seal operations, that’s why a market for shows like “Seal Team” and “The Brave” exist. That’s also a reason why these shows feature “blood and brains spraying out” because that’s what actually happens when a bullet passes through the human brain. Without such imagery, one of the biggest claims the show could make to being “realistic” goes out the window. Without such imagery, the show and the people who made it would be viewed as cheap and/or lazy.

      • Christopher Gildemeister
        September 14, 2017 at 10:36 am

        Hello GA,

        Thank you for sharing your sentiments on terrorism, Bin Laden, and the heroism of the members of our real-life armed services. We all owe them a debt. In the words of a quotation often attributed to George Orwell: “People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” But regarding our reviews, you may have misunderstood our meaning.

        Neither our review of The Brave, nor that of SEAL Team, criticizes the programs for their violence. We accept that, in programs of this nature, violence is inevitable. And while one could make an argument about how explicit the violence shown on the public airwaves in prime time (i.e., in front of millions of children) needs to be, we didn’t.

        One of the major tasks of the Parents Television Council is to inform parents and viewers of violent, sexual, or profane content in TV programs, to help them make informed decisions about what their children may watch, or what they may want to watch. It is not necessarily a criticism of a program to say that it contains graphic violence; it may be a simple statement of fact, as it is in these cases.

        We believe parents and viewers should be informed that “blood and brains spray out” because they may not want to see that, or may not want their children to see it. And, it is possible to make a war movie without showing that level of detail; Hollywood did it for the better part of a century. The makers of The Brave and SEAL Team chose to be more graphic. If that is acceptable, then so it telling people that they’re doing it.

        Thank you for your comment,
        Christopher Gildemeister

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