TV

USA’s ‘Shooter’ fails to hit the bull’s-eye every time

Ryan Phillippe as Bob Lee Swagger
Ryan Phillippe as Bob Lee Swagger USA Network

Maybe the third try will be the charm for Shooter, a new USA series starring Ryan Phillippe.

The 10-episode action/conspiracy drama, premiering at 9 p.m. Tuesday, had been all set to make its debut earlier this year. But on two separate occasions it was pulled from the schedule at the 11th hour.

When a new series gets the hook before the first episode airs, it’s usually a sign that something is seriously wrong with the show.

Maybe someone in charge at the network decides emergency retooling is necessary. Or maybe somebody realizes the show is a complete stinker and never should have been made in the first place.

Neither was the case with Shooter, in which Phillippe plays Bob Lee Swagger, the most gifted Marine sniper there ever was. He is the Gun Whisperer, if you will.

Shooter kept getting put on the shelf because it was cursed by tragic timing.

Twelve days before the show’s originally scheduled launch in July, America went into in shock when a sniper shot and killed five Dallas police officers and injured nine other officers and two civilians.

The premiere date was delayed a week. Then the show was pulled altogether after an incident in Baton Rouge, La., in which a gunman shot six police officers, killing three.

So here we are again, months later, show back on the schedule, the wounds not quite so raw anymore, our nerves not as frayed, at least in theory. And what viewers will wind up with is a middle-of-the-pack conspiracy thriller that’s neither the best nor the worst thing on TV.

Shooter is based on a series of bestselling books by novelist Stephen Hunter (who gives his stamp of approval by making a bit-part cameo in the first episode) and on a 2007 feature film that starred Mark Wahlberg (who makes his support of the series known by serving as an executive producer).

Bob Lee Swagger is a man’s man, a throwback to another, more-rugged time. He’s part John Wayne, part Ted Williams, part Audie Murphy. As a Marine sniper, he earned the nickname “Bob the Nailer” because of his prowess with a rifle. The things he can make a bullet do will boggle the mind.

When we meet Swagger, he is living quietly in seclusion as a family man. He dotes on his wife (played by Shantel VanSanten, a TCU ex) and delights his daughter with bedtime stories about his missions in Kandahar and Basra.

Then Bob’s former commanding officer (Omar Epps) brings him out of retirement. It seems there’s a threat to assassinate the president, and it’s being taken so seriously that the Secret Service needs the great Bob Lee Swagger to figure out how the sniper plans to strike.

So our hero investigates the layout, takes the notorious wound-be assassin’s weapon of choice for a test drive (which are the best scenes in the debut) and develops a strategy to protect the president.

But everything goes wrong the moment a shot rings out anyway. Swagger will wind up on the run, wrongly accused of masterminding the attempt.

Phillippe is the best thing the show has going for it. He has never looked more rugged, and he reportedly went through extensive training with the Marines at their sniper school for the role.

Alas, the show’s main shortcoming is that it feels like we’ve trod this territory before in better TV shows, such as 24 and Quantico.

Shooter certainly doesn’t feel “real” enough to upset many viewers. So in retrospect, there probably was no need to delay the premiere.

It’s not like there’s a visceral, “ripped-from-the-headlines” vibe to it. It’s just a safe, by-the-numbers, seen-it-before action series.

Shooter

(out of 5)

  • 9 p.m. Tuesday
  • USA
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