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.