Coyote

4 out of 5

Created by: David Graziano, Michael Carnes and Josh Gilbert

covers season 1

A racist, bendin’-the-rules cop, as played by Michael Chiklis, finds himself embroiled in Bad Business, putting his family and friends in jeopardy. Yes, The Shield comparisons are ready and easy, but Coyote – a 10-episode drama that 2020’s COVID curtailed to a 6-episode first season – while certainly benefitting from the television history established by shows like Shield, and its creators / writers surely not unaware of the alignment, is a very differently focused, and much, much stronger show, and one with promise for an enduring run, should audiences, hopefully, be so kind.

While I recognize Shield’s place in the TV landscape, it always seemed like part of the try-hard club of shows. It had some important (and still relevant) ideas to explore regarding policing mentality, and shifting moral lines, but it did so in a very obvious, and often eye-rollingly logic-bursting fashion, then mashed that together with trope-y, watch-the-next-episode nonsense. Coyote, on the other hand, in positioning Chiklis as Ben Clemens, a recently retired U.S. Border Patrol agent, is more directly a thriller – Ben inadvertently gets in the middle of a cartel family’s drama, then finds himself being tasked with using his connections to help that cartel – and brings with it the racial and social considerations of Ben’s former job, without exactly siding us on one side of the line or the other. The character’s racism is also much more casual, and thus more effectively subversive: employing slang and points of view that are, unfortunately, “normal,” and likely easy to come by for one witnessing a very tunnel-vision form of behavior on a daily basis; instead of butting this up against examples to prove his preconceived notions incorrect – which would be the obvious TV move – Coyote swings both ways, as we’re still dealing with stereotypes, but then exploring the humanity and reality of the characters expressing those stereotypes at the same time. It can seem a bit shallow in that sense, since there is a lot of stuff to dig in to that the show doesn’t really confront, but I think this is a wiser move for where we start, as it gives more room to the story, and allows Ben’s slide in to his situation to come across more naturally; then, once hooked – which I was – those issues can be brought more to the forefront, ideally in future episodes.

Regarding that “slide,” it’s one of the best aspects of the show. A lot of series / movies certainly work with this noir-ish concept, of the one tricky decision that causes a descent into atypical behaviors, but the rarer examples are the ones where that initial decision actually makes sense. Especially for a tersely black-and-white decision maker like Clemens, it would be silly to try to push him in to things; Coyote’s setup finds a way for his involvement to fit with his character, and Chiklis phenomenally portrays the struggle throughout – of understanding the risks he’s taking, of feeling out of his element, of trying to do what he considers the rightest thing while remaining as safe as possible. Furthermore, the man also goes through quite the ordeal in the first couple of episodes, and it’s almost humorous – though not in an overkill fashion – the extent the show goes through to make the reality of this clear: that when you travel from A to B, you don’t just teleport there.

Due to the aforementioned abbreviated season, there are definitely some beats that drop the ball. A couple of exterior characters have backstories that are hinted at in a way we can imagine would’ve been given more time with additional episodes, and the interrelationship between Ben and his family and friends seems like it could’ve used a little more room, but neither one of these are breakers, by any means: the tension of the core scenario is kept wound up tightly, and Chiklis – a main focus throughout – really carries things, stronger than he ever has before.