First, a confession. I’ve been a David Boreanaz fangirl from the moment Angel shot his first smoldering look at Buffy Summers, and I followed him to Angel and Bones.
He’s a good actor with so much charisma, charm, and presence that he has thrived on three different long-running prime time shows.
He’s very much the best thing about SEAL Team Season 1 Episode 1, a slickly produced military fantasy that seems designed for armchair militarists who thought Zero Dark Thirty was too morally ambiguous.
I’m not talking about actual members of the military, who are diverse in their ideas and experiences and personal ideologies but who all share heroism in common. They most certainly don’t need CBS television executives pandering to their sense of patriotism in a naked ratings grab.
I have nothing but respect for actual members of the Navy SEALS, and I grew up on stories told by family members who served in the navy both during World War II and the Vietnam War.
Some of the action sequences in this evoked memories of those stories. Some of those stories were morally complex, and many of them were exciting and took place in exotic locales.
This show isn’t for people who lived those kinds of adventures. It’s for a certain kind of couch potato that only wishes he could be them. So, I’ll call the fan CBS had in mind for this show Couch Potato.
I have theories about who CBS thinks Couch Potato is based on the show’s narrative.
We begin with our hero Jason Hayes (Boreanaz), in a forced therapy session with a female therapist.
He mocks her and assumes she does not have clearance. She does. She wants him to share his feelings about his dead comrade
George Zip Nate. Intercutting with the mission that killed Nate. Jason does not talk about his feelings and leaves the therapy session.
(Couch Potato, who is over forty, plays a lot of video games and just knows he could kill a lot of terrorists if those rules about bone spurs and high blood pressure were lifted. He’s really mad about that sensitivity training.)
We cut to a church. Dead Nate’s moppet of a son is getting his first communion. Jason is of course there, and he sees his ex-wife and kids.
Jason’s beautiful ex-wife Alana has just had too much of his manly heroics. It’s just not fair that she must share him with the world and she is just not generous enough of a person so she has left him.
He makes a lot of melty Boreanez eyes at her and their children. He longs for them and the domestic pleasures they represent. Alana is a stern but loving mother. The kids love Jason more than they do her, and his previously sourpuss daughter gives him a smiley bear hug.
(Couch Potato had a long day at the office. Why does his wife expect him to take out the trash? Why is she always threatening to leave him? Surely if he walked out, she and his ungrateful children would appreciate him.)
However, never fear. Jason has a sexy female colleague, fulfilling the Jessica Chastain CIA part, in Mindy. Played by Jessica Pare, she’s cold and professional but she clearly wants Jason, because who wouldn’t? He’s played by David Boreanez.
One suspects Jason will have to reluctantly give in to her desires because it’s the patriotic thing to do. Also, she has a lot of expository dialogue. She tells the team that
Osama Bin Laden Abu Samir Al-Masri has been located and they need to capture him alive for intelligence purposes.
(Couch Potato not only is sure that he could be a terrorist capturing hero, he’s also hoping his nagging wife will leave him so he can take up with that hot woman at the office, who is totally into him, without ruining his family values reputation.
The wife will most certainly, gratefully take him back once she sees the error of her ways.)
Next, we see a mission playing out, but psyche, it’s not a real mission. It’s a training exercise featuring Clay Spencer (Max Thieriot) who is a gorgeous young upstart and naive enough to argue that killing women shouldn’t be his first priority. The nameless officer running this exercise yells at him accordingly.
(Couch Potato, I’m sorry CBS executives think you get off on the idea of being in a military situation that would allow you to shoot women. That’s kind of low even for them.)
We see Jason declare that Clay is just not ready. Whether Jason likes it or not, of course, Clay will be added to the team.
(Couch Potato feels a little threatened by the younger, hotter men at the office, but he just knows they will be bros once the whippersnapper is put in his place.)
We see a classic pre-mission expository meeting. Here, Jason shares playful banter with Ray (Neil Brown, Jr.), the only African-American guy on the team.
They make some light-hearted racial jokes that are designed to illustrate that Jason is not a racist and this show is not racist. To the show’s credit, someone behind the scenes must have noticed just how racist the final half is.
(Couch Potato really wants a black friend.)
We are soon in the Liberia, filled with exotic sounds, markets, dilapidated buildings, poverty, Arabs and veiled women. It makes Homeland’s portrayal of the Middle East looked nuanced. Heck, it makes the 1921 silent rape fantasy The Sheik’s portrayal of the Middle East look nuanced.
The successful mission to kill Osama Bin Laden seems awfully far away right now. It was extraordinary, but seeing it recreated on SEAL Team feels more like exploitation than a respectful tribute.
Our team notices that Abu Samir Al-Masri has a hostage: a pretty white woman named Stacy Marshall (Julie Michael). Trust me, there is no whiter last name belonging to whiter people, and I am in a position to know.
Despite the CIA’s concerns that intelligence and countless lives will be lost if they prioritize one angelic white woman, the military knows what is right. Their mission is to save the white lady first, and then capture the terrorist alive.
(Couch potato is a bit confused as he has mixed feelings about white lady do-gooders like Stacy Marshall.)
Cue the action sequence and Clay shooting Abu Samir Al-Masri, when their orders were to take him alive. Jason is furious, but Clay defends himself. Al-Masri was wearing a suicide vest, they were in imminent danger.
Oh, and Clay’s father wrote some kind of liberal expose on the military that everyone is pissed off about because this is a pilot and obviously more expository setup was needed.
Does Clay remind Jason of Dead Nate? Of course. Does Jason do the right thing and give young Clay a chance? You bet he does. He even makes it home to his daughter’s church recital, reminding everyone what a good Christian man he is and this is a crusade.
(Couch potato, you are a good man and the CBS Network knows it.)
So, could it be that this show was conceived – much like the spate of military shows premiering this fall – to exploit the hurt feelings of emasculated couch potatoes who were forced to live under a Hillary administration?
It certainly doesn’t seem written for an audience who has reason to fear domestic terrorists or nuclear-armed madmen.
I bring this up because in my experience with Buffy, Angel, and Bones fandoms, I have noticed David Boreneaz fans are in large number women. Most of these women are pretty sharp and pretty tuned in to subtext in their television shows.
Surely, Boreneaz was cast hoping to lure at least some of them into checking out this show.
It’s just that Buffy was a literal feminist fantasy. Angel was a complex exploration of the idea of doing evil for a good cause. Bones was a mashup of forensic procedurals and Tracy and Hepburn movies.
All of those shows were written with a female audience in mind, though they never discounted or demeaned the men who watched.
SEAL Team was most certainly not written for women any more than it was written for actual service people. It was written for Couch Potato.
That said, there’s strong evidence that this show can move beyond its cynical conception. Boreneaz does a super human job elevating the material, as does the supporting cast. When not overstuffed with cliches, the dialogue is snappy. The direction and editing is slick, and everything looks beautiful and cinematic.
And, I will propose that once Boreneaz joined the cast, someone at CBS realized that the show might be a little too transparently sexist for his fanbase.
So, it gives us the more liberal, more blond Clay, and Clay shares some playful banter with a female SEAL named Davis (Toni Trucks), and it’s made clear that Clay likes her strength.
So, in addition to all the stuff for Couch Potato, there’s a scene or two designed to throw a bone to Bones fans. The majority of fan fiction about this show is going to be written about Clay and Davis. Or maybe Jason and Clay if it draws a lot of Angel fans (doubtful).
From an aesthetic perspective, the show is a love letter to the Navy SEALS. From a story perspective, it’s a cynical pander to an imagined audience of men not good enough to polish an actual Navy SEAL’s boots.
What remains to be seen is if the show can pivot toward our current, frightening times where the enemies might not be so brown or so Muslim and not threatening “our” women but democracy itself and not lose the couch potatoes. If it did, with so many talented people on board, it could be a huge hit.
Melissa Marshall is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.