‘The Brave,’ ‘SEAL Team,’ and ‘Valor’ Reviews: Which New Military Show Delivers?
Given that the United States has been at war since 2001, it’s a little surprising that it’s taken this long for us to get so many TV series focused on the armed forces. It’s not that we’ve been completely without — HBO’s Generation Kill was one of the best, but there was also Lifetime’s Army Wives and the more recent (and super jingoistic) Six on the History channel. This fall, however, we have three military series premiering all at once on broadcast: SEAL Team on CBS, Valor on the CW, and The Brave on NBC. Each one brings a particular point of view and are easy to differentiate in terms of style and story (even though they all more or less have the same first ten minutes), but instead of reviewing them each separately I thought it might be more helpful to compare and contrast them all at once. Why they are all premiering together in 2017 I do not know, but I can tell you if any are worth watching:
Created by: Ben Cavell
Cast: David Boreanaz, Max Thieriot, Neil Brown Jr., A. J. Buckley, Toni Trucks, Jessica Paré
Military Branch: Navy
Episodes Screened: 2, 1 of which features a parachuting dog
Premiere: Wednesday, September 27
Of all of this year’s military series, SEAL Team feels the most realistic in terms of the tech, training, and execution of missions. The show is not afraid to let long stretches of time go by with minimal dialogue, as the team charges into dangerous situations. There is not an over-reliance on surveillance gadgets back in Washington (“enhance!”), but rather, the action hinges on the knowledge and expertise of this elite class of soldiers. While there are some tense moments, SEAL Team is focused more on strategizing than explosions and action. There are POV camera angles, night vision, and one badass combat dog (in the second episode she gets special goggles and a tiny oxygen mask for her parachute ride — when are we getting a Rin Tin Tin remake people?!)
As for the human members of SEAL Team, David Boreanez makes for a solid lead who’s both down-to-earth and heroic. The rest of his team members are not particularly memorable though, save for Thieriot’s wise-guy rule breaker, whose arc, it seems, is to learn to be a better team player. But while SEAL Team is very good with its combat scenes and the staging that goes with them, its interpersonal drama is a problem. The dialogue is particularly unfortunate when it comes to the wives and girlfriends, though the women in combat (including Trucks and Paré) have managed to escape the clunky and stilted scripting.
Ultimately, the show manages to eke out some good drama during the missions themselves, broaching a variety of moral quandaries and exploring how to work the system while still remaining inside of it. It also embraces its episodic format and CBS demographic where each week the team faces an important mission but tries to get home in time for dinner (more or less).
Verdict: The most realistic and ultimately feel-good of the bunch, SEAL Team is built for success and will probably find it. But like the members of the SEAL Team, it’s better on the battlefield than on the home front.
Created by: Kyle Jarrow
Cast: Christina Ochoa, Matt Barr, Charlie Barnett, W. Trè Davis, Corbin Reid
Military Branch: Army (helicopter pilots)
Episodes Screened: 1 (Pilot)
Premiere: Monday, October 9
Valor stands out among its compatriots here as the only military series to specifically focus on a female character. The problem with Valor is that unlike the others, it’s very much driven by a confusing central mystery rather than a procedural format, which would be a better fit. We learn fairly early on that Ochoa’s Nora Madani and Barr’s commanding officer Leland Gallo have a mission in their recent past — wait for it — that went bad. They’re working out the guilt over their actions, the truth of which starts to unfold slowly at the end of the first hour, and is all tied to a larger coverup. It’s a reach for the CW in terms of programming, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.
At this point it’s hard to know what the scope of that coverup may be or what it means, but Valor’s storytelling is also the most intimate of the three. The focus is really on Nora and her relationships; which, of course, this is the CW. But, it noticeably doesn’t have the same budget as the others, and instead of a tension between combat life and home life, it’s more about potential hookups with co-workers. But why not, when everyone is so young and beautiful?
Verdict: The CW probably should have – and likely will – cancel this mission. Valor doesn’t have the same level of quality on almost any level as its competitors, which is a shame. But it does have a unique point of view and a more focused story to tell.
Created by: Dean Georgaris, Daniel Cohn, Jeremy Miller
Cast: Mike Vogel, Anne Heche, Demetrius Grosse, Natacha Karam, Hadi Tabbal
Military Branch: Army (undercover)
Episodes Screened: 1 (Pilot)
Premiere: Monday, September 25
The most stylish of the bunch, The Brave sets up a procedural format by immediately channeling Law & Order. A title screen tells us that “The defense of the United States and its citizens relies increasingly on two groups: the intelligence analysts in Washington who uncover threats; and the special forces operators tasked with eliminating them.”
If that sounds familiar, here’s how Law & Order starts: “In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important, groups: the police, who investigate crime; and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.”
So, you know how this works. And that is what The Brave is going for, feeling like pastiche of many, many, other network dramas before it (there’s even an appearance by a Quantico cast member that makes things peculiarly familiar).The Brave’s pilot is full of tech and surveillance gadgets in Washington, with a fast-paced and casualty-filled ground game at its Middle Eastern base. It feels a little like Homeland in its carefully-conceived level of gloss, stereotypes, and yet works as a sweeping drama. The pilot keeps the character list contained and heavily reliant on archetypes, but then again, most of these shows deal with squadrons of people who are all dressed in similar military garb, so there is something to be said for that.
The ending of the pilot suggests that we’re in for a show that could rely too heavily on twists, shocks, and cliffhangers to amp up an emotional connection, and there’s not much of a sense of where things go from here as far as character arcs go. Most importantly perhaps, Like SEAL Team, The Brave prominently features a dog. But tellingly, so far it hasn’t been given the opportunity to do anything other than bark.
Verdict: NBC isn’t breaking any new ground here, but maybe it doesn’t need to. More focused on operations with a clear procedural setup, The Brave offers up tense tactical missions, but hasn’t revealed what its narrative focus will look like.