×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Review: USA Network’s ‘Shooter’

With:
Ryan Phillippe, Omar Epps, Shantel VanSanten, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Eddie McClintock, Tom Sizemore, Randy Orton

Shooter” is what you’d get if you put “24,” “The Fugitive,” and the Special Forces memoir “No Easy Day” into a blender and came up with a workmanlike product that is less appetizing than it should be, given the ingredients. It’s not difficult to see why a pitch about a particularly resourceful Marine on the run went over well, considering the number of Seal Team accounts on best-seller lists and the success of “American Sniper.”

But Americans have just endured a bruising and particularly unpleasant year, full of vitriol, violence, and constant accusations of treason. It’s reasonable to wonder if audiences will be eager to see a drama in which brains are splattered across the screen more than once, and in which an obsessive man rather predictably struggles with the tangled knot at the heart of a conspiracy.

At one point in an early episode, a character even uses the word “rigged,” though it’s only in relation to an arcade game that irks him. USA’s “Mr. Robot” is, of course, proof that, given the right execution, viewers are more than willing to fall down a topical rabbit hole along with a show’s protagonist. But that’s where “Shooter” goes awry: it’s simply bland and tends to dutifully follow the paths that Jack Bauer blazed more than a decade ago.

In “Shooter,” Ryan Phillippe plays Bob Lee Swagger, the best sniper in the Marines, a humble but legendary warrior who has put down his weapon in order to focus on his family back in the U.S. Alas, a peaceful retirement is not to be his fate: He gets caught in the snares set by a group of men intent on serving the interests of various governments through assassination attempts and strategic misinformation. Swagger is framed for crimes he didn’t commit and must simultaneously evade capture and clear his name. He relies on the help of his wife, Julie (Shantel VanSanten), and Nadine Memphis (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), an FBI agent who starts to question the findings of the Swagger-related investigations she’s involved in.

It’s a sturdy set-up for an action-thriller — and not surprisingly, a book and a 2007 Mark Wahlberg film of the same name preceded the USA series. Unfortunately this incarnation of “Shooter” doesn’t wring the greatest potential rewards from that set-up. Part of the problem is that the drama touches on a host of hot-button issues without having much of anything to say about them. That would be fine if the dramatic momentum propelled the viewer past the unexplored themes and the thinness of the story. But in the end, it’s an exposition-heavy drama with the occasional burst of action, and despite the general competence of the cast, there aren’t many compelling reasons to be invested in the fate of anyone on screen.   

“Shooter” was originally set to premiere in mid-July, was pushed to late July, and finally kicked down the road to its November premiere. Given that the show features a lot of blood, weaponry, and targets viewed through a sniper’s scope, the hesitancy about when to put it before the public was understandable. The nation’s ongoing history with mass shootings — including several high-profile incidents during the summer — made the decision to postpone the premiere seem quite rational. But while the hesitation surrounding whether to premiere it after the Pulse nightclub shooting makes sense, the program’s own timidity about its subject matter is a little more problematic.

“Shooter” makes a few mild political points, most notably when Swagger confronts a group of hunters whose choice of weaponry and methods couldn’t be less sporting. Though there are a series of detailed and almost fetishistic depictions of a sniper going about his work, he is never portrayed as someone who yearns to take lives. It’s a job to him, and Phillippe conveys Swagger’s firm and calm commitment to his mission within the confines of a rather limited characterization. Also, in showing a veteran who is a good father and husband and a contributing member of society (until the misfortunes that derail his life), “Shooter” provides a welcome contrast to the kinds of exploitative shows that use former service members as cartoonish villains or deranged murderers.

Those modest attributes aside, everything else about the drama feels just a little undercooked and rudimentary. Swagger’s wife is given a steely resolve by VanSantel, but his family members, like the rest of the characters, are two-dimensional at best. A plot about Russian interference in world affairs could have had a ripped-from-the-headlines feeling, but it’s undistinguished and rote.

This is a nation fascinated with guns, secretive plots, unseemly meddling at the highest levels of government, the use of military force, and the secrets of covert operatives. Perhaps the most unsettling thing about “Shooter” is that it muddles through all those subjects in an attempt to deliver a conspiracy-driven action hour, but it never quite becomes more than the sum of its recognizable parts. It’s easy to see why the show was commissioned, but it’s harder to conceive of a scenario in which it will capture or sustain the attention of the public.

Popular on Variety

Review: USA Network's 'Shooter'

Drama: 10 episodes (4 reviewed); USA; Tues., Nov. 15. 10 p.m. 60 min.

Crew: Executive producers, Mark Wahlberg, John Hlavin, Stephen Levinson, Lorenzo di Bonaventura.

Cast: Ryan Phillippe, Omar Epps, Shantel VanSanten, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Eddie McClintock, Tom Sizemore, Randy Orton

More TV

  • Emmys 2019: Biggest Winners and Losers

    Winners and Losers of the 71st Emmy Awards

    The 71st Emmy Awards was a spectacular affair for the Brits, while broadcast networks all but vanished. Watch Variety’s Elaine Low and Audrey Yap unpack TV’s biggest night of the year, which saw “Game of Thrones” and “Fleabag” take home the top prizes, winning best drama series and best comedy series, respectively. Popular on Variety

  • Atmosphere71st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, Show,

    Emmy Viewers Not 'Feelin' Good' About Bizarre Music Choices

    It was known ahead of time that the Emmy Awards planned to dispense with a traditional orchestra or pit band for the walk-up and bumper music. What wasn’t anticipated was that the music choices were being outsourced to a bar mitzvah DJ in Des Moines. Or, very possibly, it was a local who had found [...]

  • Atmosphere71st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, Show,

    Emmys: Big 4 Broadcasters Post Lowest Combined Wins Ever

    The Big 4 broadcast networks put a cap on their worst year in Emmy history on Sunday night. ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC brought home just 16 Emmy Awards — the lowest combined total in history for the four major broadcast networks. The previous low was 19 combined wins in 2016. Last year, the networks [...]

  • Karamo BrownLA LGBT Center 'Hearts of

    Karamo Brown Addresses Backlash Against Sean Spicer Comments

    Karamo Brown has doubled down on comments he made about his fellow “Dancing with the Stars” contestant Sean Spicer, in which he promoted the idea of meeting political adversaries “in the middle.” The amicable “Queer Eye” host received criticism when he said he was “most excited to meet” Spicer ahead of the show’s 28th season, [...]

  • Billy Porter Emmy Win 2019 Pose

    Billy Porter Dispels Rumors of RuPaul Rift Backstage at Emmys

    Billy Porter choked up backstage on Sunday at the Emmy Awards as he spoke about the larger cultural significance of his lead drama actor Emmy win for the FX drama “Pose.” Porter leads the large ensemble on the series set in 1980s New York City during the height of the AIDS crisis and the birth [...]

  • Michelle-Williams-Rupaul-Split

    Emmy Winners Urge Political Activism During Acceptance Speeches

    As the country inches closer to the 2020 election, Emmy winners on Sunday night used their time in the spotlight to advocate for political causes. Celebrities such as Patricia Arquette, Michelle Williams, and RuPaul Charles all urged activism from viewers while accepting their awards. While accepting her Emmy for her supporting role in Hulu’s “The [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content