True Justice

True Justice debuts tonight on Reelz at 9 p.m. Eastern.

Holy fuck, you guys: True Justice is definitely a show that exists on television. Of that much, we can be certain. Beyond that? It’s hard to say. Reading up on the history of this program’s production reveals that it first aired in Spain on the Nitro channel, moved over to Britain, and eventually started being packaged on DVD in two-episode sets posing as actual movies. (When Wikipedia puts the word “movies” in quotes, you know you’re pushing it.) The man, myth, and legend Steven Seagal serves as producer and star of this 13-episode series which starts tonight on Reelz. Given that these are already in the can, and given the network it’s on, I can’t imagine all of these episodes not actually airing over the next few months. God help us all. 

Seagal stars as Elijah Kane, head of the Special Investigation Unit for a series of Seattle-based cops. He’s “as good as they come,” according to the blurb that came along with the screener. I suppose that means that we should all fear for the short- and long-term health of those living in the greater Seattle area, because my God Kane and his merry band of incompetent officers do a great job of sloppily meandering towards the apprehension of the nondescript baddies on their radar. Seagal might once have had the charisma and the physical skills to sell a role like Kane (I’m a non-ironic fan of the Under Siege franchise), but those days are long, long gone.

Once again referring to the blurb, I will have you know that Kane “demonstrates the expertise of a warrior, clearly ex-military.” Grammatical fuckery aside, that’s not remotely related to what actually happens onscreen. When he’s not fighting, Kane calls everyone “man,” irrespective of gender, and tends to throw in the word “like” and “yo” so often that one could mistake him for one of the deadbeat dads on Teen Mom. When he’s not talking, his single expression betrays a deep resentment over the burrito trying to exit his body. And when he fights…I mean, the dude’s played a lot of Fruit Ninja, I wager, because all Seagal can do at this point is quickly slap in the general direction of a baddie until said nemesis somehow falls to the ground.

As for the rest of his squad, they are generic to the point of being non-descript. There’s Smarmy Guy, Slightly Bemused Guy, New Girl, and Failing At Being Missy Peregrym Lady. Ostensibly, New Girl Sarah (Sarah Lind) should be our way into this already-established universe. But after an initial scene with Kane, she drops out of the picture for most of the pilot, and is alternately the butt of everyone’s jokes or a long-standing member of the squad. True Justice can’t decide quite which one it is, because it’s too busy imitating a dozen other shows and failing to capture even an iota of the essence of those superior products. This is Walker: Texas Ranger as pop-culture mashup. That could be a good thing, in one of those “broken clocks are still right twice a day” kind of ways. But True Justice certainly is not that long shot.

To be fair, the first hour is just terrible, which represents the acme of the two hours I’ve seen at this point. I almost felt bad for actively rooting against this show before popping in the screener, because while it’s borderline incompetent, it’s not embarrassing. Like I said at the outset: it exists. That’s the absolute faintest of praise, to be sure, but it’s a perfectly harmless hour of terrible television. It’s miles above truly terrible, actually offensive shit like H8R.

But my god, that second episode is a thing of fucking wonder. One can almost imagine Seagal, proud of his efforts in the pilot, learning from his other producers that only $24 remained to fill the remaining 12 episodes. Kane and Company are chasing local Russian drug runners (are there any other kind?) into a local club. Once the two members of the unit go undercover to snuff out the baddie, True Justice spends roughly two and a half minutes airing generic B-roll footage of this sparsely populated club. At one point, it almost borders on Sacha Baron Cohen-level anarchy. None of these scenes add to the episode, none of them further the story, none of them actually involve any members of the main cast…they are just filler, there to take up the time not spent by Seagal making earnest speeches that are so unintentionally funny that I had to show them to my wife to make sure they actually weren’t a byproduct of the aneurysm this hour produced.

Oh, did I mention Gil “I’m Getting Paid In Cash For This, Right?” Bellows is the Russian baddie in question? He’s the show’s heavy in the early hours, plowing through the low-life thugs with the greatest of ease and the greatest of receding hairlines. Honestly? The concept of True Justice isn’t inherently awful. There are kernels of interesting ideas beneath the Seagal-ality of it all. There are hints of cultural anthropology scattered about: brief mentions of the Cajun fisherman that migrated to the Pacific Northwest, looking for work; hints of the dark history involved internment camps in the area; the geographical proximity to Canada that makes the area rife with smugglers. True Justice really, really wants to be a Justified-esque take on the region, eschewing the weirdness of Twin Peaks and the pretensions of The Killing. Well, I want a lush head of hair and the two hours of my life spent watching this show back. Sometimes, we just don’t get what we want.

It’s impossible to recommend the first hour, which commits the cardinal sin of being dull without providing any unintended hilarity. But you could Mystery Science Theatre 3000 the living shit out of the second hour and have quite the time. I’ve purposely left a lot of that hour in the dark here so you can experience it for yourself. Honestly, Seagal’s speech ten minutes into that hour in which he waxes existential about the nature of evil is one of the more remarkable things you’ll see in 2012. The rest of the show? Well, that’s an injustice in and of itself.

Stray observations:

  • One of the actors on this show is named William “Big Sleeps” Stewart, which is either the best worst name or the worst best name ever. I honestly can’t decide.
  • I’m not Seagal expert, so I can’t tell if he’s trying on an accent in this show, if that’s the way he always talks, or if he had half of a ham sandwich in his mouth during each scene.
  • There are bad cops, there are terrible cops, and there’s whatever Failing At Being Missy Peregrym Lady is in that first hour. There’s a scene with her and and eyewitness to a brutal crime that is somehow more brutal than said crime.
  • I kept waiting for Bellows to start ranting about that pesky “moose and squirrel” during each of his scenes. Lordy, that accent.
  • Most characters have little tics that help flesh them out as actual human beings. New Girl’s tic is apparently “having psoriasis,” as she’s constantly scratching her skin in every scene.
  • In terms of pop-culture homage/thievery, none irked me so much as the “48 Hours Earlier” deployed at the outset of the second hour. The Alias fan in me wanted to send Syd in to clean house.