With Shooter Season 2 premiering on 19th July, is it worth catching up on Season 1? We put the Ryan Philippe thriller in our sights.
A TV show about guns in the current climate might seem like a terrible idea – or, indeed, given the tragedies that so often unfold on US soil, a terrible idea at any time. From the opening sequence, which breaks down how bullets and guns kill people, Shooter seems like the biggest mistake by the small-screen since True Detective Season 2. But once the series proper gets underway, the result is a more generic thriller than the title suggests.
Ryan Philippe stars as Bob Lee Swagger – yes, that’s his real name. He’s a war veteran with Afghanistan and more under his belt, an American’s American with the best sniping record in the business. These days, he’s retired, living a quiet, tranquil life in the wild with his wife (Shantel VanSanten) and daughter (Lexy Kolker). All that is shattered, though, when his old commanding officer, Isaac (Omar Epps), turns up on his doorstep and asks him to help foil the assassination of the President of the United States. Assessing the lay of the land in the presumed attack spot of Seattle, he flies in to work out where the killer will strike from – only to find himself framed for an attempted shooting. Within an episode, he’s on the run from the CIA and trying to clear his name.
An innocent man in a global political conspiracy? Shooter is in extremely familiar territory – and not only because it’s inspired by the book Point of Impact, upon which the 2007 film Shooter, starring Mark Wahlberg, was based. If you can’t remember that film, you’re not alone, and the tried-and-tested narrative is no doubt part of it.
Ryan Philippe does a decent job in the lead role here, from the nerdy knowledge of the maths behind targeting to the concerned father trying to get his family out of harm’s way. It’s a pleasure to see the actor get a rare leading role, and even if he doesn’t have the swagger of his character’s moniker, he does manage the impossible task of stopping you laughing every time someone says the words “Bob Lee”. He walks the part, talks the part and poses well behind a rifle.
The rest of the cast are less compelling, largely because they play exactly the kind of stock characters you expect to crop up. There’s the sinister Russian guy from the FSB, the threatening Jack Payne (Eddie McClintock) who’s mostly after some easy cash, and Lon Scott (Desmond Harrington), a rich guy who fancies himself a better shot than Bob Lee – with a sillier name to boot.
None of them really make an impression, as they flit in and out of the picture as the season progresses. They arguably don’t have to, as long as the action stays compelling enough, and writer John Hlavin certainly keeps the pacing fast enough to stop you switching off.
But by the time the season’s second half comes around, the plot is spending so much time trying to twist and turn that things get a little repetitive – the final few episodes essentially stage the same showdown over and over, in varying combinations. Someone has a USB stick with incriminating information. Someone else has agreed to meet and give money for it. And someone else is watching from a distance through the sights. Oh, and maybe there’s a hostage too, for good measure.
We spend a lot of time looking through the aim of a gun, often that of Bob Lee. It’s a troubling perspective, one that makes for a more visceral action sequence, but also reinforces the show’s undeniable fetishisation of gun violence. From the amplified click of a trigger to tracking shots following the paths of CGI bullets, the camera makes no apology for liking ammunition – and that may be enough to turn away for many, given the news headlines that portray exactly what America’s gun culture can lead to. If the show benefits by opting for a more palatable plot, though, it’s also weakened by its unwillingness to challenge the issue of gun violence head on – we briefly cross paths with other army veterans and a small cloister of fanatical gun-lovers, who are far from portrayed as the good guys, but more engagement, exploration and nuance of such communities would make for meatier viewing.
Conversely, at a time when political conspiracies are served up left, right and centre by Homeland, The Americans and Designated Survivor, it’s a shame that Shooter never embraces its USP enough to stand apart from the pack. Instead, we have to make do with some scribbled illustrations of distances, calculations and building plans that overlay the screen as Bob Lee goes to work – a nifty visual trick, but this is still a few round shorts of a full clip.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that the show should find its feet in the closing episode, which shunts all the generic bells and whistles to one side to hone in on one man trying to save his family – a story that leaves VanSanten and Kolker (frequently the best thing in the whole show) playing the inevitable damsels in distress, but also brings out the simpler, direct form of tension that Shooter excels at. Jack Bauer, Bob Lee Swagger ain’t. But a well-meaning ex-military man hankering for a more peaceful life? That’s a stronger sell.
The result is far from groundbreaking, but at only 10 episodes, it’s an easy binge-watch, with some satisfying set pieces, if you can stomach the weaponry. Apart from Philippe and his daughter, Cynthia Addai-Robinson as FBI Agent Memphis, who believes Bob Lee’s innocence, and Epps as his shady old friend bring just enough intrigue to make it all worth it – a finale that teases a second season featuring both in more prominent roles, then, suggests that the show’s makers have already started to learn from the lessons of Season 1. With that sophomore run on the way this month, if a mindless burst of action is what you’re after on a Sunday afternoon, Shooter mostly hits the spot.
Shooter Season 1 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.