David Boreanaz is a colorful comic-book hero in 'SEAL Team'

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large
David Boreanaz is the star of SEAL Team. (Photo: CBS)

With his square forehead, square jaw, and share shoulders, David Boreanaz makes a perfect war hero in SEAL Team, the new CBS Wednesday-night action show. Playing Senior Chief Petty Officer Jason Hayes, Boreanaz is the tough-as-nails leader of a Navy SEAL team, and the way the actor shoulders the load of his soldier’s equipment and the load of carrying this series on his back, he deserves a special sort of Emmy: Best Portrayal of an Enlisted Man.

This being 2017, there is no way Jason Hayes can simply be a soldier who comes most alive on the battlefield. No, he must be haunted by the deaths he’s caused, and so last week’s premiere commenced with a session Hayes had with a Navy-approved therapist to compel this soldier to grapple with his grieving process. The scene was written so that you’d see Hayes was impatient and uncomfortable talking about himself and his feelings — we were supposed to admire his taciturn lack of self-pity. But the subtext was more interesting: SEAL Team was suggesting that this touchy-feely stuff just gets in the way of combat excitement, a judgment with which I’d have to agree.

The best moments in this show are when Hayes is prepping for combat with his team, which includes Neil Brown Jr., as Ray, Hayes’s closest friend, and Bates Motel’s Max Thieriot as Clay, who’s a bit of a hothead. Boreanaz is very much at ease, and very enjoyable, kidding around with or barking orders at his crew, and when he springs into action, Boreanaz does so with all the gusto of a pure comic-book hero such as the enlisted man who helped shape my youth, DC Comics’ Sgt. Rock of Easy Company in the Our Army at War comics.

Where SEAL Team is weakest is when any scene turns away from fighting enemies to a discussion of fighting enemies, usually in some sort of high-tech command room where everyone gazes intently at computer screens to watch missions either succeed or, in common TV parlance these days, “go sideways.” The official doing most of the static screen-gazing is Mad Men’s Jessica Pare as Mandy Ellis, some sort of higher-ranking person whose status seems intentionally vague. Pare yammers out her speeches as though the dialogue lies at the outer reaches of her character’s comprehension. When Mandy rasps, “We believe an errant shell hit the stockpile,” her eyes betray no understanding of what she just said she believes. This, and the show’s music — come on, another war-themed project that uses the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” to convey edgy ominousness? — are SEAL Team’s most obvious weaknesses. The show’s strength resides primarily in Boreanaz’s performance. I’d have thought after all those years in Bones, he’d have chosen a follow-up series that had a lighter work-load, that didn’t require him to recite most of the dialogue and be in nearly every scene. The man is a workhorse, but he’s our workhorse. God bless America.

SEAL Team airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m.

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