CBS’ ‘SEAL Team’ Shoots Back At Military Cliches — And Occasionally Hits Its Mark

Entertainment
David Boreanaz, Neil Brown Jr., and Max Thieriot in CBS' SEAL Team.
Image via CBS

Somewhere in Liberia, a notorious Islamic State commander has been spotted meeting with jihadist groups active in the area. Members of SEAL Team 6 — the Navy’s elite Tier One operators — led by Jason Hayes, (David Boreanaz of Bones’ fame), fast rope into the village where the target is holed up. The team mows down the bad guys, clearing rooms and pieing corners with precision, before making their way into a labyrinthine tunnel system under the building to apprehend their quarry. Then everything goes sideways.


This is a scene from the first episode of the upcoming military war drama SEAL Team, written by Ben Cavell (executive producer of Justified) and directed by Chris Chulack (E.R.). SEAL Team, premiering Sept. 27 on CBS sets out to tell the story of the Navy’s special operators at home and abroad, as they struggle with everything from deadly enemies and shifting mission parameters to strained marriages and edgy team dynamics.

Though the show deserves credit for accuracy in terms of gear, equipment, and some pretty impressive shootouts, to achieve its more ambitious goal — capturing the emotional realities of military service — SEAL Team has to successfully navigate a minefield of hackneyed military tropes and overplayed scenarios.

Related: Guess What Special Operations Unit CBS’s New Military TV Show Focuses On? »

Having so much drama packed into one episode, let alone one show, can undercut a lot of the emotional realism, because it places the characters at the center of every problem, incident and scandal that could, or would, befall servicemembers at home or abroad. It’s a common enough pitfall, and one that plagued another Navy SEAL show.

“It’s one of those things where the most dramatic, most important moments in a season are probably drawn from a lifetime of a career,” Tyler Grey a consulting producer on the show and one of SEAL Team's four full-time military advisers, told Task & Purpose.

David Boreanaz and Max Thieriot in CBS' SEAL Team.Image via CBS

As a result, the SEAL Team pilot plays out in somewhat predictable fashion.

You know the drill: every mission goes south or devolves into a firefight; somebody is dealing with guilt from a bad op; someone has to see a shrink; marriages are strained; team dynamics are upset by the new guy and so on. That said, the show does an admirable job tackling these head-on.

“There are times where you’re damned if you, and damned if you don’t,” said Grey, who served in the Army from 1998 to 2007, deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan during four tours with the 2nd Ranger Battalion. “Look, how common is it that military service members are divorced in shows and movies? The problem is, how many people in the military are divorced?”

So, yes, these are clichés, but they contain kernels of truth: Missions really do go awry; people sometimes make tough calls and feel guilty about it; military life and a high op-tempo tends to put a strain on any marriage; and a new element in a tight-knit unit can indeed cause disruptions.

In the case of SEAL Team, the new element is Spenser Clay (played by Max Thieriot), a multi-lingual, whip-smart SEAL whose father is a decorated war-hero within the community — and the author of a best-selling book, which is a nice in-the-know jab SEAL Team wants you to pick up on.

One thing the show does very well, is that it stays firmly rooted in a moral gray-zone. There’s no right answer to some of the problems that arise in the pilot, just different bad options, and that — perhaps more than anything else — makes SEAL Team worth watching.

At one point Clay, Hayes, and his close friend Ray (Neil Brown Jr.), are trying to bring a target in alive. They’re underground, and the man is armed with a suicide vest, but Hayes, a seasoned team leader with years of experience under his belt, is confident that “martyrdom is a young man’s game” — as one of the CIA analysts suggests — and thinks the aging HVT (high-value target) would rather be taken alive. What to do? We won’t ruin the episode, but let’s just say the situation is resolved.

“He makes the call, and at that point, it’s not a bad decision,” Grey said, adding that “he made a split-second decision based on the information he had. There’s a lot of gray area and that’s what the job is.”

The show is ambitious in its attempt to tackle the emotional toll of service among the military’s elite and SEAL Team deserves credit for avoiding most of the missteps that befall a military drama, even if the first episode doesn’t make it over every hurdle with ease. It’s not an easy task, but neither is fighting a war. As one of the SEALs puts it in the pilot episode: “You know that was a no-win scenario."

SEAL Team premieres Sept. 27 at 9 p.m. EDT on CBS.

The U.S. military does not need Iraqi permission to fly close air support and casualty evacuation missions for U.S. troops in combat, a top spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS clarified on Tuesday.

Army Col. James Rawlinson clarified that the Iraqis do not need to approve missions in emergency circumstances after Task & Purpose reported on Monday that the U.S. military needed permission to fly CAS missions for troops in a fight.

Read More Show Less
Photo illustration by Paul Szoldra/Task & Purpose

It all began with a medical check.

Carson Thomas, a healthy and fit 20-year-old infantryman who had joined the Army after a brief stint in college, figured he should tell the medics about the pain in his groin he had been feeling. It was Feb. 12, 2012, and the senior medic looked him over and decided to send him to sick call at the base hospital.

It seemed almost routine, something the Army doctors would be able to diagnose and fix so he could get back to being a grunt.

Now looking back on what happened some seven years later, it was anything but routine.

Read More Show Less
The Armed Forces Service Medal has a green, blue and yellow ribbon and a bronze medal featuring a torch like that held by the Statue of Liberty. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Alexx Pons)

Editor's Note: This article by Gina Harkins originally appeared onMilitary.com, a leading source of news for the military and veteran community.

Thousands of U.S. service members who've been sent to operate along the Mexico border will receive a military award reserved for troops who "encounter no foreign armed opposition or imminent hostile action."

The Pentagon has authorized troops who have deployed to the border to assist U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) since last April to receive the Armed Forces Service Medal. Details about the decision were included in a Marine Corps administrative message in response to authorization from the Defense Department.

There is no end date for the award since the operation remains ongoing.

Read More Show Less
(Facebook/Naval Air Station)

Americans' mighty military may have met its match when it comes to erecting barriers to keep out intruders.

An alligator in Florida recently had zero trouble flopping over a chain-link fence to get onto a naval air base. Motorist Christina Stewart pulled over to film it, and local television station WJAX posted it on Facebook.

Read More Show Less
Retired Lt. Col. Wallace Ward, USMA Class of 1958, marches back with the Class of 2023. (U.S. Army/Brandon O'Connor)

Wallace Ward graduated from West Point in 1958. More than 60 years later, at age 87, he's still kicking ass and joining new academy plebes for the annual March Back.

Read More Show Less