4 out of 5
Developed by: John Hlavin
No, Shooter is not ground-breaking or fantastic television. However, it aims to be an action conspiracy thriller, and I would say it accomplishes that with aplomb – with focused writing, appropriately intense acting, and a smart ebb and flow of shooting and explosions. Furthermore, it quite appreciably avoids several hiccups or indulgences that other shows would likely allow themselves to be derailed by.
I have not seen the movie or read the book from which this show was adapted, but a quick wiki study suggests it’s actually fairly smart compromise of both sources, and perhaps an improvement to some of the sensationalist aspects of both. And noting that the book is first in a series suggests there is longevity here, even if the show paves its own path going forward.
The wonderfully named Bob Lee Swagger (Ryan Phillipe) is a retired something something special ops sniper guy, living an ideal, if isolated, life with his wife (Shantel VanSanten) and daughter, away from the active snipering. An old something something special ops buddy (Omar Epps), now working for the CIA, approaches and shows Swagger evidence of a potential threat on the president’s life; Bob Lee’s sniper expertise is needed to know how to safeguard the head honcho from this potential threat. Alas, despite Swagger’s help, the shot is taken – though it hits a different target – and wouldn’t ya’ just have guessed: Bob is framed as the shooter. The remainder of the season has our lead escaping those pursuing him (lawful and unlawful types) to find the real perpetrators, crossing paths with creepy dudes like Eddie McClintock and Desmond Harrington along the way. A groovy cover up conspiracy starts to unfold, and Swagger thankfully gets some “I believe you’re innocent” backup from fed Cynthia Addai-Robinson.
To distill: Shooter was like a good Strike Back season, without the buddycop business or excess sex. (…But… is that still Strike Back?) Phillipe’s terse approach to the role reeked of training and made his Swagger absolutely believable as an intelligent operator under fire. With the show’s grainy camera filter and fly-on-the-wall shooting style, it managed to maintain a sense of grit throughout, helped along by non-scene chewing dialogue that found a good balance between operational lingo and cueing the viewer; again, believable, and more importantly – not dumb. Not Shakespeare, but to the point.
Several other touches along the way helped immensely. Firstly: the cops and bad guys aren’t idiots. Those on Swagger’s side come to reality soon enough, and the square-offs aren’t strictly about last minute twists or skill show-offs, but more often (and again, more believably) about who can scramble from point A to point B the fastest. This means that when someone does do something nicely devious, it tends to resonate. (Except the final baddie’s last ditch plan, which was pure evil villain template.) Secondly: the action and “extras” are doled out patiently. There are fights – and surely gun fights – but they tend to be brutal and quick and not very glorious; the show very much follows The Fugitive setup of constantly being on the run, so that tone is smartly carried through these action moments, and it keeps the heartrate up. There’s also some fancy effects that represent Swagger’s shooting calculations which you suspect are going to make a cute appearance every episode… but they don’t. Lastly – that I’ll point out, though they are other minor niceities – Bob Lee’s wife ain’t a chump. Sure, she gets kidnapped, but Bob is a trained dude with a streak of paranoia, and so, logically, he’s paired with someone with some of those same traits. She holds her own in her sequences, and to an extent, the same is true of the daughter.
I know, I know, this is very glowing. I was impressed, but I don’t want to mislead: Shooter is, on the whole, a standard action show with a notable focus (or a convincing focus) on tactics. But the extra steps taken to keep things grounded and rough-edged ended up earning my appreciation, and thus – as read – my praise.