Bob Lee “the Nailer” Swagger – that’s the eponymous hero of this series: ex-Marine sniper with an outstanding record of bravery and kills in the field, now working for Homeland Security and hunting ethically with an arsenal of rifles based in the locked den at the bottom of his yard at home. So far so like thousands of Americans, but this hero is soon framed, on the run and trying to find the real shooter to prove his innocence.
A familiar story? While this series is based on a novel (Point of Impact by Stephen Hunter), you can see how the Execs would have pictured the adventures of Mr Swagger and his hunt for justice after being framed for attempting to assassinate the POTUS – though topically, it is the president of Ukraine who gets his brains blown out.
This is a dose each of Designated Survivor and Homeland, a hefty dollop of Prison Break, a touch of the American dream in the form of the happy husband, wife and daughter thrown in for good measure. In short, a heavily formulaic American cat-and-mouse thriller whose subject just happens to be a Marine hot-shot.
It gradually becomes a chase for the MacGuffin of the type honed so successfully by Hitchcock, Welles and many other great movie makers, a MacGuffin being the object all protagonists and antagonists are chasing within the internal logic of the movie/series. It could be a can of beans, but in this case it’s a thumb drive containing a document called “Annex B,” some diamonds thrown in for good measure, plus a load of unspecified power games to demonstrate the superiority of one group of metaphorical clowns over another.
I really don’t need to say any more than that, but be assured that is what the US double agents, the Russians and every man and his dog are trying to get hold of, which quest explains why poor old Bob Lee Swagger got set up. Our hero, of course, only wants his old life back, plus a ranch, a few thousand acres and a sturdy fence. Nothing remotely ambitious or acquisitive about this all-American boy, which stretches credibility and makes the
Visually and in its use of sound and music, the Shooter is whizzier than ever before. In terms of plot and dialogue it has added layers of complication thrown in to last out for a full series, where Hitch deliberately kept plots simple and to the point so the audience could focus on the tension without having to figure out who was on which side. Maybe we are more sophisticated these days, but I still can’t help believing the master would have done this better.
How so? Because there’s a grim inevitability, once we’ve been through the set-up, been introduced to roughly five sets of antagonists (including various US agencies and dem pesky Russkies) and worked out their motivations, a shoot-out and an attempt to take Bob’s family in the denouement were both inevitable and entirely foreseeable, such that I gradually lost interest. The kidnap plot is a MacGuffin all of its own, of course.
Ryan Philippe as Bob Lee and “Executive Producer” does his job professionally, without ever making you feel he is passionate as his character. Nothing wrong with any performances, of course, though I find it tough to see Omar Epps, that nice and long-suffering Dr Eric Foreman from House, playing a morally compromised role as Bob Lee’s ex-commander Isaac Johnson, the man who framed him and a player in a complex political game.
The other reluctant helper is tough FBI cookie, Nadine Memphis (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) – and everyone else apart from Bob Lee’s family (Shantel VanSanten playing his missus Julie) is a baddie of some description, which probably goes a long way towards explaining America’s paranoia – around every corner someone IS out to get them, and a mile away is some sniper with a clear line of sight ready to blow off your block. Very noticeable that this series was postponed in order to avoid clashing with the anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas!
For the most part this is all stuff and nonsense. It’s certainly not drama of the highest order, such that you feel every action is done for effect rather than coherence by John Hlavin, responsible for the TV development. It did not grip nor especially intrigue me, such that I wanted to know more. I didn’t much care about the characters, their mission or their fate, which in the hands of more effective writer and director it ought to have done.
Oh, and guess what? The good guy wins in the end as those pesky Russkies play to his strengths and allow him to blitz the lot… just in case you thought this series would break convention. Yes, there are a few untied loose ends and the basis of series 2 plot, but these programmes are, ultimately, predictable to a fault.
Very sorry, but I really don’t think I will bother with series 2 when it comes out. It will only be more of the same, and life is way too short for more of the same.