I really, really, really want to give Steven Seagal Lawman an A+. But that wouldn't really be "accurate" because the Steven Seagal Lawman I'd give an A+ doesn't actually exist and is, instead, a show that I came up with in my head as I was watching the show that actually exists, which is pretty much just Cops with Steven Seagal. I mean, that's actually an appealing premise in and of itself, and if either the word "Cops" or the name "Steven Seagal" sets your heart going all pitter pat, well, this is probably the show for you. But I fell in love with the show in my head so much that I thought I'd share it with all of you.
Basically, I had no idea that Steven Seagal had been a deputy officer in Louisiana for the last 20 years, but apparently, he has been. He's kept this side of his career under wraps, and I'd find that sort of admirable if the guy hadn't agreed to make it a TV show now that his career is basically nonexistent. The fact that he's now something of an Internet cult figure probably meant that he could have a reality show made about him, and at least he didn't choose to make one about how he has a crazy life and everyone in his family taxes his patience and so on and so on. (Are all celeb-reality shows just remaking the first season of The Osbournes over and over?) But at the same time, as mentioned above, this is Cops. With Steven Seagal. And that's just not as much fun or as awesome as it could be.
Seagal goes on calls. They're the sorts of things you'd expect from having to make traffic stops to getting called to houses for all manner of things to having to drive everywhere really fast while the sirens blare and he talks menacingly into a radio. It'd be one thing if this were a new sort of genre, and, indeed, the fact that Cops is essentially an untapped market for reality show copycats gives it an air of unexpectedness for a little while. But the vast majority of the first two episodes that aired last night are just big shrugs, at least, insofar as the calls Seagal goes on. There are a few amusing moments where the people he meets out in the field recognize him from his films, but they're few and far between all of the Cops-like action. (Also, it's amusing that this many people still recognize Seagal. Outside of the Under Siege movies, was he ever THAT big?)
In between the calls, Seagal and his pals down at the precinct jaw about the job or get briefings about what they'll face out in the field or work together on various training seminars. It'd be one thing if this were capturing a sense of verisimilitude about what it's like to be a police officer down at the precinct, but the fact that the show stars Steven Seagal keeps that from ever really happening. Seagal, see, has martial arts as a passion in addition to police work, and he's forever trying to train everyone he works with in the best way to subdue suspects. The guys he works with could pretty much come out of a stock barrel of types for cop movies, so the scenes where he's pulling them into holds and demonstrating his prowess on them end up being more amusing than anything else. There's also a scene where Seagal takes one of his colleagues out to a shooting range and gets him to try lighting a match by firing bullets at it. No. Really. A major set piece in this show involves two guys at a firing range, trying to light matches with guns.
The biggest problem with Lawman is that it's never immediately clear that the show has figured out that there are substantial swathes of absurdist comedy inherent in the whole premise. It's entirely possible that this is really how life is in the precinct where Seagal works, but just the fact that Seagal is present and there are cameras filming everything turns the show into an unholy union between something like Hogan Knows Best and Cops. The stuff where Seagal's going out on calls is fitfully interesting, but everything in the precinct house ends up feeling bizarre where it seems as if the show doesn't quite realize how strange much of this seems. It's possible that a prerequisite of Seagal taking part in the series was that the show took everything absolutely seriously (since it is his second career and all), but it ends up hurting the whole program, making what could be dryly hilarious confusing instead. There are moments of unintentional hilarity (mostly when Seagal seems to be deeply impressed with himself), but they're too fitful to really impress.
Which brings me back around to the version of this show I would give an A+. Sadly, we'd have to live in an alternate universe for that to be possible, but the sheer oddness of the show we have right now convinced me it was possible for quite a while. Let's imagine, for a moment, that Steven Seagal was not a deputy sheriff, that he was, indeed, just a failed action star whose career never really took off. Now let's imagine some intrepid single camera comedy producer who wanted to create the next great workplace sitcom. Now let's imagine they decided to shoot this show with the same sort of film style you see in Cops. Finally, let's imagine that said producer cooked up the exact premise of this show but as fiction, as a series where everything that was happening here was completely, utterly intentional. It would be the funniest comedy on TV! Indeed, this show already almost is. Seagal's interplay with the other guys in the precinct is something like if Michael Scott on The Office were a faded action star who thought every bon mot that dropped from his lips was essential the existence of the human race. Imagine that sort of scenario with a game faded action star in the hands of an experienced comedy writer, and you'd have a recipe for something terrific.
I can't really in good conscience give Lawman anything above a C+, since much of it is just too self-serious to really enjoy. But the series approaches the daffy tone of whatever I described above (and you can probably do an even better job of dreaming up a fictional version of this in comments) often enough that it's probably worth watching at least once, if only for the scenes where Seagal takes it out on his favorite target, the pudgy bald guy who's his firing range companion, or the scenes where Seagal talks about himself in flowery terms. It's rare that I wish a reality show was scripted, but this is a perfect case of a scenario where everything would be that much better with some great writers directing traffic.
- There's a point where Seagal says that he may make his living being in the movies, but he's also a deputy sheriff. This strikes me as one of the weirdest understatements in the history of TV.
- After this summer's Shaq Vs., I am now hoping to see a series where Shaq spends the offseason patrolling since he, too, is apparently a police officer in his spare time. One more, and it's a trend!