David Boreanaz has a knack for elevating tepid material, and that has never been more clear than in CBS’ “SEAL Team,” in which his particular brand of self-effacing charm marries surprisingly well with a blood-and-sand military drama. Boreanaz plays Jason Hayes, a high-ranking Navy SEAL who, when we meet him, is fibbing his way through mandatory therapy. He probably should pay attention; ever since he lost a good friend in combat, he’s estranged from his wife and children. The loss has redoubled his focus on work: Taking out more of ISIL, while making sure his team is the best it can be.
It’s a little shamelessly jingoistic, and like many shows and films about the current war on terror, it carries charged political implications. On the other hand, when the team learns of a hostage, they make a point of discussing that her “value” is partly dictated by the fact that she is an “attractive, Western female.” Given that a broadcast show is rarely if ever going to approach the complexity of a show like “Homeland,” “SEAL Team” makes a strong effort to bring the human element of the fight against amorphous terrorists to the broadcast audience. And to the show’s credit, the emphasis of the show is less on its gung-ho action sequences than it is on the close-knit team of people conducting those complicated missions. There’s an attention to detail about military life and forays into faraway lands that lends an atmosphere of the appreciably romantic. And by the end of the pilot, the ensemble feels rock-solid — a promising indicator of long-term success.
The ensemble is particularly interesting because it is a diverse one. In the pilot, Jason responds to a throwaway joke by asking his close friend Ray (Neil Brown, Jr.) if it was racist. Ray responds that the joke probably wasn’t racist, but Jason asking the one black guy about it is definitely racist. They’re taking the piss out of each other, and in its awkward earnestness it feels very realistic. Rather than create a cast of characters that represent certain categories, “SEAL Team’s” ensemble feels like a group of individuals with unique strengths and backgrounds — which makes sense, because that is after all how most people are.
Those other characters include Davis (Toni Trucks), a no-nonsense logistics officer who runs a tight ship; Clay (Max Thieriot), a second-generation SEAL with a sense of entitlement; and in a very different role from her turn on “Mad Men,” Jessica Paré as the SEAL’s CIA liaison, Mandy. Of course, Mandy and Jason have some barely traceable chemistry that we can expect to pay off a couple of years from now, and Clay will likely redeem himself after a few more clashes with Jason, and someone really should become Davis’ romantic interest, stat. But what is noteworthy is how believable the team is, even just by the end of the pilot — and how even with the weight of the U.S. military on its shoulders, the show still feels comfortable examining its own premises.