'S.W.A.T.' is a hot Shemar Moore showcase

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
Shemar Moore as Daniel “Hondo” Harrelson in S.W.A.T. (Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS)

A rebooting of the 1975-76 police celebration of the same name, the new S.W.A.T. has become something other than a cops-versus-bad-guys drama. Now it’s an hour spent in awe of its star, Shemar Moore. Although the new CBS show requires him to wear drab police blues, Moore is regularly ushered into scenes that permit him to doff the drab and showcase his immaculately sculpted torso. After 11 years on The Young and the Restless, Moore did 11 seasons on Criminal Minds, which suggests he’s a hard worker and a loyal employee. In this sense, he was overdue a starring role; CBS just had to find the right fit for his brand of flirty flexing, and S.W.A.T., premiering tonight, may be the vehicle that works for him.

Here he plays Hondo Harrelson, the recently promoted leader of a Special Weapons and Tactics team in Los Angeles. He leads a team of cool-cat pros and hot-dogging newbies, gracing both with his serene wisdom: “S.W.A.T. isn’t about kickin’ ass, it’s about savin’ lives.” Yes, of course he’s having an affair with one of his bosses, played by Stephanie Sigman — a relationship that is against the rules. In real life in 2017, that hookup would be more likely to land Hondo in hot water than his team’s occasionally too-enthusiastic butt-kicking.

Hondo’s S.W.A.T. colleagues include Jay Harrington, looking more pumped up than he did on the excellent Better Off Ted, and Kenny Johnson, a veteran of Bates Motel and The Shield. Everyone runs around wearing body armor and toting enormous guns while shouting things like, “The situation’s gone south!” and (in pursuit of a suspect) “We got rabbits!” Because even CBS police shows require a social conscience these days, a white cop accidentally shoots a black youth in South L.A., and the incident sparks angry demonstrations that require a boss to say to Hondo, “If anyone can bridge the gap between that community and the police, it’s you.” And, following the laws of contemporary TV drama, a neighborhood resident is duty-bound to ask Hondo, “What color you supposed to be, brother? Black or blue?” The premiere features a Los Angeles gun battle that looks like a punk version of the epic shootout in Michael Mann’s masterpiece Heat.

The original S.W.A.T. ran for a mere two seasons on ABC, and featured a Hondo Harrelson who was a square-jawed square played with bland assurance by Steve Forrest, a very familiar TV face of that era. The show emerged from the Aaron Spelling factory as a spinoff of The Rookies, and one reason that S.W.A.T. may have been a two-season blip was because it didn’t use the patented Spelling formula of exceptionally attractive people doing tense, racy things. (The Rookies, for instance, lasted twice as long and starred young good-lookers Michael Ontkean, Georg Stanford Brown, and a pre-Charlie’s Angels Kate Jackson.)

It’s probably the 2003 Clark Johnson-directed feature film version of S.W.A.T. that put the franchise in the heads of the new TV show’s producers. That film starred Samuel L. Jackson and Colin Farrell in a more serious shoot-’em-up. The movie might have been what appealed to the two prominent names behind the pilot: Fast & Furious director Justin Lin directed the S.W.A.T. premiere, and Shawn Ryan, creator of the highly esteemed cop drama The Shield, is an executive producer. No matter what the initial motivation, however, everyone involved in the new S.W.A.T. is going to have to come to terms with the fact that their show is only going to be as good as the long-term life of Shemar Moore’s abs.

S.W.A.T. airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. on CBS.

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