Will there ever be a "right time" for a show like USA's Shooter?
The series, based on the 2007 movie starring Mark Wahlberg, premieres Tuesday, after experiencing a couple of speed bumps earlier this year along its path to the airwaves. Originally scheduled to debut on July 19, it was first delayed a week after the July 7 attack in Dallas in which a sniper killed five police officers. Then, after another marksman killed three policemen in Baton Rouge, La. on July 17, executives decided to shelve the show until the fall.
Now, there have been plenty of mass shootings in the country since July 17, but apparently USA's marketing department realized that if they continued bumping the show after every one, it would never make it to air. Which begs the question posed above.
Taken strictly as entertainment, and judging solely from the premiere episode, Shooter is a fine show. For those unfamiliar with the film, the story follows Bob Lee Swagger (Ryan Phillippe), an ex-Marine sniper and expert marksman who is recruited out of retirement after his former commanding officer (Omar Epps) learns of a plot to assassinate the president.
**MILD SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT**
Swagger's reluctant to leave behind the quiet family life he's built for himself, but agrees to work with the government to foil the attempt. But he doesn't succeed. At the end of the pilot, the president is assassinated, and worse yet, Swagger is in the wrong place at the wrong time and realizes he may have been framed for the murder.
Again, as a TV show and nothing more, Shooter is an entertaining thriller along the lines of 24and, in some aspects, Homeland. Phillippe is convincing as Swagger, who embodies all the stereotypes of a Real American Hero: quiet resolve, good looks, an undying devotion to his wife and daughter, a tightly-clenched jaw, and a moral code as solid as his muscular build. The character isn't one-dimensional, though. We learn quickly that Swagger suffers from PTSD and blames himself for the shooting death of one of his friends when they were enlisted.
And the show doesn't borrow only its plot from movies. The way Shooter is, well, shot - with close-up, slow-motion sequences of a bullet as it follows its trajectory from a gun and explodes into its intended target are cinematic and often transfixing.
But do we need this? There's a lot to be said for escapist entertainment, but at a time when guns, the right to own them, and the correct way to use them are such hot-button, politically-charged issues -- not to mention when national anger is at a fever pitch -- do we need yet another illustration of how totally awesome it is when a bullet completely pulverizes something, whether it be (in the case of Shooter's premiere episode) a pumpkin, a glass window, or human flesh?
Make no mistake: Shooter absolutely glorifies the power of a firearm. And while the show's politics are subtle, they're there. I didn't watch the premiere when it was originally made available to critics over the summer, so I'm not aware if it changed at all between then and now. But in the version that will air on Tuesday, Swagger is unequivocally positioned as one of the "good gun guys." As he notes in voiceover: "Guns change everything, and a bullet is forever."
The first time we see Swagger, he's in the woods, with a deer in his crosshairs. What's going to happen next seems like a foregone conclusion. But it's a misdirect. Swagger not only lets the deer escape without firing a shot, he soon turns his attention to a wolf caught in a trap. He readies his trigger finger and aims, and... it's another twist! Rather than simply putting the animal out of its misery, Swagger shoots the trap itself, freeing the wolf. Before it can get too far, Swagger knocks it out with a tranquilizer, releases its paw from a jaw trap, and even gives the creature a shot to prevent infection.
And that's not all. When the original hunters appear on the scene, yelling at Swagger for taking "their wolf" and threatening them with their own weapons, he disarms them to show them what it feels like to be hunted when you can't move.
All this is to say that, in Shooter's telling, Swagger is exactly the type of "good guy with a gun" that Second Amendment defenders (and most people in general, probably) would want around in the case of trouble. Unfortunately in Shooter, it doesn't do him much good.