We do little stuff, medium stuff, and big stuff. But the point is, we never stop. We’re out there every night chasing the bad guys.
— Steven Seagal
“Man! They got hit pretty hard! That van got messed up pretty good too!” Watching Steven Seagal watch crimes is almost as much fun as watching him stop them. Back when he was a young action star, Seagal prided himself on full body shots, the camera following his martial arts perfection, the ways he took down the bad guys by turning their own aggression against them. Now, as a deputy sheriff in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana — and in a reality series, Steven Seagal: Lawman, back for a second season — he’s more often shot in close-up.
These repeated shots of Steven Seagal’s face have a few effects. For one thing, you’re reminded that he’s no longer that action star, that he’s slower and bigger and inclined to ride in the passenger seat of his cruiser. For another, you’re reminded that his facial expressions were always limited. Here, he looks much the same no matter what the situation, as if he’s just smelled something foul. Before you assume the worst, though, you should know that this one look is appropriate for nearly every occasion in Steven Seagal: Lawman.
The new season, premiering 6 October, begins with drunk drivers. One in particular is careening dangerously, or so Steven Seagal and his partner Johnny hear on the radio. And so they set off in search of a silver car, they spot it just as crosses a media and slams headlong into an SUV coming from the opposite direction. “Man!” says Steven Seagal (who will always be known by his full name). As the cops stand around and grimace at the victims in the SUV (Steven Seagal suggests one woman head to the curb to sit down) and the dazed drunk driver, our hero offers commentary: “This boy’s life is at stake, he could have internal bleeding,” observes our hero. “This is a life or death situation.” By the time the fire department and the ambulance arrive, Steven Seagal has assessed, “Looks like he’s gong into shock, son. Look at his eyes. Damn it.” Steven Seagal holds his flashlight on the driver while the firemen go at the car with their jaws of life, the metal twisting and screaming. And when he’s taken away, Steven Seagal concludes, “We don’t know why he was driving down the wrong side of the road. Coulda been drunk or high on drugs. The state police will take over the investigation.”
Repetitive, melodramatic, and odd enough to make you aware that what you’re watching is not reality, but reality filtered through Steven Seagal, the show isn’t so interested in resolving cases or even determining what’s happened, exactly. It’s more about how amazing it is to watch all this diurnal police beat activity alongside Steven Segal. He describes it in a way that the actual visuals just can’t match. “I knew it was going to be bad,” he says of the car crash. “And it was bad.”
Steven Seagal’s opinions are shaped by his experience, of course, not only his celebrity and world travels, but also by his philosophy, the “ancient philosophy of swordsmanship.” Last season, the show focused on Steven Seagal’s relationships with his fellow cops, his efforts to teach them self-defense skills and zennish mental states. Here, he’s less hands on, more, well, philosophical. After he demonstrates some swordplay (suggesting that he might cut off opponents’ thumbs if his blade was sharp), Steven Seagal explains his sense of calling: “The reason why I became a police officer was to get out with the people, to help the people. That,” he sums up, “is part of being a warrior.”
The show presents Steven Seagal more or less as he presents himself, less ironic than playing along, with a helpful soundtrack (when he’s startled, for instance, a crashing noise punctuates the cut to his close-up) and with his intermittent local speech pattern. “Why you didn’t stop that car sooner?” he asks one young man, “When you saw the po-lice?” When the culprit shuffles and claims he was afraid to go back to prison, Steven Seagal tries to calm him. “How many years you was in prison?” he asks. As convoluted as his sentence structures become or how much he swallows his vowels, it’s the other man’s dialogue that gets subtitles, as if to remind you that he’s the “other” in this scene, not the movie star riding around with cameras and microphones.
At times, Steven Seagal’s celebrity shapes his encounters with regular people. When he and his partner are called to help an intoxicated man, perched on a curb, murmuring and distraught, Steven Seagal figures out immediately that the guy only needs to get home. He hands him $20 for cab fare and when he hears it’s the fellow’s birthday, he has this to say: “According to Chinese astrology, you fall under the animal of the Dragon, which is a magical, mystical animal.” As chimes sound in the background, Steven Seagal bequeaths advice that straddles Chinese mythology, Southern wisdom, and Mr. Spock: “So use your magic to get sober and do good and prosper, okay?” The guy gives him a hug. Steven Seagal has his own kind of magic.