If reality TV has taught us anything, it’s that authority figures are just people like the rest of us. Dwayne “Dog” Chapman may look tough when he crashes through a door, but he’s really a devoted family man and a devout Christian at heart. The same goes for the cruel boot camp drill sergeant or the egomaniacal fighter pilot. At home, they’re concerned with taking out garbage or feeding their dogs.
This is more or less the case in Dallas S.W.A.T. The opening crawl informs us that there are 3,000 police officers in the city, but only 30 members of the elite S.W.A.T. team. As hotshot sniper Robert Cockerill says, “When the citizens need help, they call the cops. When the cops need help, they call us.” But the guys who make up this “us” are quite mundane and entirely predictable.
Take Mr. Cockerill. Would it surprise you that he’s a Type-A asshole putting his personal health on the line for the sake of some unimportant S.W.A.T. competition? As he surveys his den wall, covered in plaques, medals, and ribbons, he laments the previous year’s loss: “It still hurts,” he says. Here is a man who puts high caliber ammunition between the eyes of bad guys, yet all he can talk about is another piece of ego jewelry. The show follows him and the team to Las Vegas for a contest, and the result is both anticlimactic and completely in step with his pompous selfishness.
In contrast, divorced dad Richard Emberlin is trying desperately to get over his failed marriage, and work out a relationship with on-again, off-again girlfriend Jeannene. When we meet this Mr. Mom, he’s feeding his little princess of a daughter. From here, he’ll get his hair cut (at the saloon where his girlfriend works), attempt a reconciliation with his ex, and attend the ballet. In between, he frets about his love life and his infallible child. He’s the yin to Cockerill’s yang.
Since the series appears to be introducing a couple of new members of the team each week, we are stuck with our chosen pair during this first outing, and they do a poor job of selling what makes S.W.A.T. so “special.” Each of their three busts is so micromanaged and horribly filmed that we never get an idea of what is going on. Dallas S.W.A.T. tosses in computer graphics and recap text screens to keep us “in the loop,” but without a sense of how the team’s strategy differs from the chase and apprehend mayhem available every week on Cops, this series seems prosaic at its start.
Dallas also appears fairly nondescript, full of residential apartment complexes that blend into each other. There are lots of big guns and menacing vehicles in view, and yet in Episode One, the only shooting we see happens on the firing range or in that Sin City competition. Still, the danger of the job is made clear when Robert’s longsuffering ex, Theresa, discusses her fear of “the phone call.” She presents a compassionate, down to earth understanding of the risks, in ways her husband cannot articulate.
Neither Richard nor Robert exhibits much perspective. To them, being on the front lines in the “war on crime,” called in for the most dangerous of situations, is just another punch-clock paycheck. But they’re supermen without substance, professional but not personable.