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CBS’ ‘S.W.A.T.’ Has Some Work to Do
November 2, 2017  | By David Hinckley

CBS’s revived S.W.A.T. may be trying to swat too many issues with one show.

The new edition, which debuts Thursday at 10 p.m. ET, lines up for the most part with CBS’s long and successful tradition of crime procedurals.

The Los Angeles S.W.A.T. (Special Weapons and Tactical Team) takes on the toughest cases facing the LAPD, moving in on terrorists and mobsters and other very bad guys who may outgun or outflank the regular police force in some specific situation.

Each week, presumably, the team led by Daniel “Hondo” Harrelson (Shemar Moore, top) will fearlessly jump into a situation that calls for an elite unit with both state-of-the-art technology and high brainpower.

The team also includes Deacon Kay (Jay Harrington), Christina Alonso (Lina Esco), Dominique Luca (Kenny Johnson) and cocky newcomer Jim Street (Alex Russell).

They’re under the supervision of Jessica Cortez (Stephanie Sigman), a tough cop who, by the way, has a secret affair going with Hondo.

It wouldn’t be hard finding a tough situation for the team to tackle each week. But S.W.A.T., which semi-reprises a short-lived mid-1970s TV version and follows a 2003 movie with Samuel L. Jackson and Colin Farrell, has more on its mind than that.

It show acknowledges up front that real-life military-style tactical police units have engendered backlash, particularly in communities where some segment already regards the police as an occupying force.

S.W.A.T. dives into that complex and troubling issue by having a team member shoot an unarmed black teenager while in pursuit of actual bad guys.

Here it’s an accident. There have been enough of these accidents that not everyone will see it that way.

In the wake of the shooting, the white cop who headed the team and pulled the trigger is fired. Hondo, who is black, gets his job.

This vaults Hondo past Deacon (right), who has seniority and has been seen as the heir-apparent to the leader spot. So there’s internal friction, though it’s dwarfed by broader and more dangerous friction inside the LAPD on whether communities of color are being treated respectfully.

Hondo gets the either 1) promising or 2) impossible task of trying to spearhead good, hard, tough police work while at the same time convincing his community that the police are your friends.

It may be possible to address all the nuances of that subject in a one-hour TV show while also developing and resolving a major crime. And tracing the tension inside a police unit. And reminding viewers a few times about a potentially dangerous romance.

TV shows multitask all the time, and when CBS procedurals are clicking, they interweave this stuff as smoothly as a three-card monte game on a Manhattan street corner.

S.W.A.T. hasn’t made it to “smoothly” yet. It takes the viewer in so many directions it doesn’t quite have the time to fully explore any of them, notably the community relations tension.

As a result, it’s forced to resolve complex matters a little too neatly.

Not always, but too often, the show feels like it reflects a scene where Hondo sends his team off to its next crisis by yelling, “Take care of business, folks!”

Purely as TV police action drama, S.W.A.T. does take care of business. If it’s going to also say something meaningful about other issues of policing these days, it needs to up its game.

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