“SEAL Team” is a perfectly adequate military drama. Nothing about it will surprise you, and nothing about it will take you out of your comfort zone. Through two episodes, creator Benjamin Cavell’s new CBS series establishes itself as a serviceable entry in the growing canon of troops-on-the-ground TV shows, surpassing NBC’s entry “The Brave” and adding just enough visual flair and human connection to make David Boreanaz fans happy.
There is also a dog.
Named Dita in real-life, the dedicated canine companion plays a militarized man’s best friend. Specifically, Jason Hayes’ (Boreanaz) best friend, and she accompanies the elite group of Navy SEALs on their missions. Dita leads the charge through various homes, bombed out buildings, and underground tunnels, helping to track bad guys and point out dangerous traps facing the team.
Dita, in short, is a very good dog (14/10), but she comes to represent the mediocre ambition of “SEAL Team.” The show is easy to love, especially with the charming Boreanaz leading the way, but it’s not trying to do or say much of anything. The stock characters are slightly elevated by a strong ensemble cast and a script that knows how and where to place the emotional moments, but those moments are very much by-the-book.
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What results is a show as enjoyable as, say, seeing a German Shepard (OK, she’s probably a Belgian Malinois) wear goggles. It’s as thrilling as witnessing a puppy dog dutifully point to a potential assassin. It’s as emotionally rich as getting a few gracious licks from a fetching pet — actually, less so. Because you’re not getting licked first-hand, it’s like watching someone else feel the love of a cute dog.
The series doesn’t take any chances, not even with Dita, and this becomes a frustrating (but not unforgivable) offense. Take, for instance, Dita’s second mission. In the first episode, Dita is front-and-center. She’s hanging with the SEALs as they’re briefed on their mission and tags along on a dangerous mission to save an American sold into sex slavery and kill a wanted terrorist.
As the team executes Captain Hayes’ risky plan, Dita loyally walks with them every step of the way. Her addition to the action isn’t milked for “ooo’s” and “aww’s” (thankfully), as the dog’s purpose is conveyed without exposition or extraneous coverage. She’s part of the team, not just a cute sidekick.
But in the second episode, the balance starts to fall apart. Dita is suited up for a dangerous dive into enemy territory. She’s walked onto the plane and viewers watch as she’s fitted with skydiving gear, including a particularly adorable shot of her in protective eyewear. It’s a super cute look — one we’re glad to have memorialized forever — but it doesn’t feel like the “SEAL Team” writers are taking a tonal break for some fun; they’re just explaining how the dog can end up on the ground with this group, even after jumping out of a plane. Worse yet, we don’t see Dita jump out of the plane, which would be a rather remarkable, once-in-a-lifetime kind of shot (including if she’s carried, which is implied) as opposed to the easy and safe glimpse of her wearing goggles.
Such hesitancy, presumably motivated by viewers worrying Dita would look scared during the jump, could be a problem. It’s not really the series’ fault — “SEAL Team” knows what it is — but the viewers might get frustrated or bored while waiting for something, anything surprising to happen. “SEAL Team” will introduce a goofy debate over cinematic discrimination, which feels like it’s expanding its topical comfort zone — “‘Mad Max’ is wall-to-wall white guys, so that’s definitely racist,” Ray (Neil Brown Jr.) quips — right before getting back to basic military jargon.
Or Hayes will rub his leg nervously, showing how uncomfortable he is answering personal questions, just as the editor match cuts to a shot of him rubbing his leg the same way to wipe off some blood after a traumatic experience. It’s a move sophisticated enough to make you think there could be more going on than meets the eye, but “SEAL Team” always finds its way back to even. Blunt exposition balances out any artful implications.
It always comes back to the middle — the middle-of-the-road. Dita is a very good dog on a slightly above-average series. “SEAL Team” will serve its procedural mission just fine, but the show could have more of an impact if it was let off the leash.
“SEAL Team” premieres Wednesday, September 27 at 10 p.m. ET on CBS.