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

    by  • September 13, 2017 • CBS, Paleyfest 2017 Reviews, Profanity, Violence • 21 Comments


    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.

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

    1. Eric Bean
      July 10, 2019 at 6:06 pm

      Ok, here’s my .02 cents – I am a US Navy Veteran, screenwriter, and educator. I have watched both shows. Mind you, because of my past experiences I can relate to military characters and connect with those that are written well. I am also VERY picky about which military shows I watch because of this. I look for realism in the character, the dialogue, and the environment.

      The Last Ship was absolutely amazing when it came to realism on the boat. The sounds of the klaxon, the engines hum in the b.g., everything was on point. This show had a lot of great details but the overall story arcs were lackluster.

      After watching both pilot episodes, (because that is all that is discussed), of SEAL TEAM and The Brave, it is key to point out that the episodes are written in two very different styles: Premise vs Episodic.

      A premise episode is designed to not necessarily follow rigid constructs but flow with a constant story that shows you the world while exploring the unique characters in it. They are more character driven and the plot points are more subtle. The story may feel disjointed to some and not evolved – take Mad Men for example – GREAT TV show, but the pilot action was a bit slow, however, you learned a great deal about the world it takes place.

      An episodic pilot has a set structure you tell your story within its confines. It has a clear teaser/ACT 1-2-3-4-5/epilogue – while making sure you have your episode theme and ABC story lines.

      What is also worth notating is that shows that use a premise pilot episode to show you the world, then reverts back to an episodic structure to continue the series and multiple story lines.

      I will say that The Brave did have a better pilot. However, the characters and overall story-telling is much, much, better in SEAL TEAM as the series progressed.

    2. July 9, 2019 at 2:13 am

      Instantly amazed with all the useful information that is on it. Great post, just what i was looking for and i am looking forward to reading your other posts soon!

    3. Bob
      May 3, 2019 at 5:17 pm

      Wow Christopher, your assessment sucks. The Brave (shitty show), SEAL Team (superior show) are shows not meant to be enjoyed by children. The responsibility falls on the parent and not on you regarding these programs. You assessment is one side, typical cuck mentality regarding seeing programs that show men being manly, no nonsense and unapologetic. I know this current world would love to see real men extinct and replace with cucks like you but that will not happen anytime soon. If you really want to protect children, perhaps you should focus your attention and “professional” assessment for Disney programs, for shows on Free Form, shows promoted for children but exposing them to sex, drugs, LGBT bullshit that most will never encounter.

    4. Linda
      April 21, 2019 at 12:46 pm

      I watch all the police procedurals on CBS and this one I don’t like. It makes the Seals out to be undisciplined bad boys. We all know that true discipline is required in the face of what they must do and these guys are all over the place emotionally, taking huge risks. I realize TV watchers want that, but I find it insulting to US Navy and the Seals.

    5. tommy
      May 23, 2018 at 9:03 pm

      Seal team is in my top series ever created, only coming behing SOA, Gangland undercover, and SIX. The Brave was horrible they even have a woman in the unit doing tactical mission which was just a point to stay PC but would never happen in real SOCOM. I can’t believe your judgement in saying this show is not worth watching, you obviously have another reason for putting viewers off from a great show.

    6. Delphine
      May 9, 2018 at 6:54 pm

      Seal Team is the best show on TV!

      • Donnah
        May 10, 2018 at 7:49 am

        It is the best drama on network TV. Far above all the others.

      • tommy
        May 23, 2018 at 9:05 pm

        it is amazing, you should also check out The Unit and Gangland undercover, I enjoyed both as much as Seal Team

      • Kewal
        February 14, 2019 at 7:26 am

        Just watched the very few episodes of season 1… simply one the best TV shows out there.

    7. Bonnie
      March 31, 2018 at 4:10 pm

      I love both shows. I just hope both return. On the Seal team I wish Jason’s wife would die. What kind of person would send her husband off to war letting him know he’s not her husband anymore and not returning his phone calls.l

      • Donnah
        May 10, 2018 at 7:47 am

        My husband’s first wife did that to him in Vietnam

    8. John H Howe
      February 28, 2018 at 7:21 pm

      So, David B is to cool to aim his AR. Maybe he doesn’t want to get in the way with his face. I noticed this a couple of times in Bones and let it pass but to portray a seal, no way.

    9. Patty
      February 2, 2018 at 2:55 pm

      The writers TOTALLY missed an opportunity to really effect the audience. The coffins laid out were missing 1 coffin. The DOG that died!

      • bonnie
        March 31, 2018 at 4:12 pm

        I totally agree!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I thought the same thing

    10. Cindy
      September 28, 2017 at 9:34 am

      The show Seal Team last night kept saying something about the strap. What were they referring to? The show left be so confused.

      • Christopher Gildemeister
        October 2, 2017 at 2:07 pm


        I had the same difficulty! As far as I could determine, the character they kept calling “strap” was the new team member — the smart-alecky one whose father was a former SEAL who wrote an unflattering book about the SEALs. I inferred that “strap” is a derogatory nickname for new team members/those travelling with the team who aren’t experienced, since they have to fly in the back of the plane like cargo, and hang onto straps. Sort of similar to how standing subway passengers are called “strap-hangers.” That was my guess, anyway.

        Watch The Brave instead. You’ll enjoy it more.

        Thanks for your comment,
        Christopher Gildemeister

        • Johnny
          May 3, 2019 at 5:21 pm

          The brave is created for people who lack any sort of military knowledge or intelligence. The plots are okay, the characters are bland, the show lacks realism. SEAL provides action, shows incidents of direction action, the skill set and frankly tries to show the type of balls it takes to do missions like this in real life. If they were to put half the real shit SEALs, DELTA, Marine RECON, Rangers etc truly do, you all will be calling bullshit. Before judging the show, try to learn what real men do.

    11. 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

        • Johnny
          May 3, 2019 at 5:25 pm

          If you are going to provide information about violence, sexual content etc on a show, than do that, but keep your opinion out of it. You are not a tv critic and obviously lack the ability to appreciate a show. If you want parents to know if its safe for a child to view, then list the number of times a particular act occurs, example, 22 deaths, 32 acts of violence, 3 sexual scenes, 12 uses of profanity etc., and leave out your narrow mind assessment of why the show is good or bad.

          • Christopher Gildemeister
            May 22, 2019 at 9:51 am

            Hi Bob/Johnny,

            (The IP addresses on all three of your emails were identical, so you’re obviously the same person. Not sure why you used two different aliases here, unless it’s to make it look like there’s more than one person with your same opinion and foul mouth. But whatever…)

            I’ll respond to all three of your comments at once.

            I am aware that The Brave and SEAL Team were intended for adults. However, they both aired in prime time, when children are in the audience. As I said in a previous reply to another comment, the reason the PTC exists is to inform parents about program content, so they can make better choices about what their children watch. How will they know how violent a program is, unless someone tells them?

            I’m not quite sure why you think we should focus attention on Disney programs, since you claim children “will never encounter” the content in those shows. (I may be misunderstanding what you meant. But when someone’s comments are as poorly written and incoherent as yours, what do you expect?)

            You are correct when you say that The Brave was “created for people who lack any sort of military knowledge” — in other words, the vast majority of the viewing audience. I evaluated these programs on how clear their storytelling and characterization were, and how competently they were made. If you look at the other comments for both shows, most people seem to agree my assessment was accurate.

            Also, please remember that these reviews were written after only the first episode was viewed. Even at the time, the first episode of SEAL Team felt like it was hastily thrown together and not written or edited very well. No doubt SEAL Team has improved its storytelling and characterization since then, or it wouldn’t still be on. Of course I may be underestimating the fan base for SEAL Team, which likely consists of 1) female David Boreanaz fans, who’ve loved him since Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Bones; and 2) “manly men” who like to see “the real s**t SEALS do.” (Not sure which category you’re in.)

            As to whether or not I’m a “TV critic,” I guess I didn’t know one had to attend a special school or write for a specific publication to merit the magical title of “TV critic.” Is it like becoming a doctor or lawyer, requiring special education and credentials? As for “obviously lacking the ability to appreciate a show,” just because I don’t appreciate the SAME shows you do does not mean I’m wrong, or that you are. We just have different opinions.

            But then, given how you spew your hatred and profanity at anyone who has a different opinion from you in any way, I gather you’re intellectually incapable of making fine distinctions like “opinions about TV shows can differ.” Obviously, to you, there’s the RIGHT way to think (that is, exactly like you) — which makes one a “MANLY MAN WITH BALLS, NO-NONSENSE AND UNAPOLOGETIC!” — and the wrong way, i.e., any way different from yours, which makes a person a “cuck” who “want to see REAL MEN extinct!”

            I could question why you seem so defensive and paranoid about your own manhood, but…I’ll settle for this link. It should be perfectly suited to your mentality.

            Best wishes,
            Christopher Gildemeister

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