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Imagine you’re a contestant on Family Feud and the question tells you that fans of the long-running CBS drama Walker, Texas Ranger were asked to name their favorite elements of the series.
You think long and hard and your first answer is, “That there’s a character named Walker!” The host gives you an incredulous look and a loud buzzer tells you that nobody surveyed gave that answer. For some reason, you get a second chance and you respond, “Ummm…the jurisdictional issues in Texas law enforcement!” Here, the audience laughs nervously and again an “X” appears on the screen.
Air date: Jan 21, 2021
While I don’t expect there are that many fans of Chuck Norris’ Walker, Texas Ranger likely to be aware that The CW exists, much less that the network has a remake of Walker, Texas Ranger premiering on Thursday, I’m betting that most people in that odd Venn diagram won’t make it through 15 minutes of The CW’s Walker. That’s because the show delivers almost none of whatever made the original series fun. The annoying thing is that being a total failure as a remake of Walker, Texas Ranger doesn’t necessarily mean that Walker is a total failure as a TV show. It’s just something different, and I wish it had just committed to being that different thing entirely.
Basically, as best I can figure it, Jared Padalecki walked into some CW executive’s office and said, “I would like to do a new show that lets me remain in Austin, Texas, and perhaps one where I might wear a gigantic cowboy hat as much as possible.” And since Padalecki’s tenure with The WB and then The CW has included a long stretch on Gilmore Girls, a pilot for Young MacGyver and 327 episodes of Supernatural, The CW was happy to accommodate those wishes.
In this incarnation, Cordell Walker (Padalecki) is a Texas Ranger (the law enforcement agency and not the baseball team) whose commitment to his job leaves him with very little time for his wife (Genevieve Padalecki), teenage daughter (Violet Brinson) and son (Kale Culley). When said wife is murdered doing humanitarian work near the Mexican border, Walker pours himself even further into his work. After several months on an undercover assignment, he returns to discover that he has a new partner (Lindsey Morgan’s Micki Ramirez) and a family that’s barely holding together without its matriarch.
As a law enforcement procedural, Walker is weak. That the main character is a military-trained Texas-based officer with a hair-trigger temper and no interest in following the rules is the only real connection to the original series; since I never much liked the original series, this doesn’t bother me especially. What bothers me is that the pilot has a case-of-the-week that’s so generic I could only tell you that it relates to a church gift shop in some way. There isn’t a memorable action scene of any kind in the pilot, be it hand-to-hand combat or driving. There’s an apparent mystery behind what happened to Walker’s wife, but it’s insufficiently seeded.
Pilot director Jessica Yu — it should be noted that the original series appears, upon a cursory glance, never to have had a woman direct a single one of its 200 episodes — isn’t exactly an “action director,” but with episodes of The Rookie and Stumptown among her credits (episodes of Billions, Fosse/Verdon and American Crime are other highlights), she’s no stranger to action beats within character-driven drama. Here, it’s only the character beats that land, as well as a palpable sense of place courtesy of a variety of nicely shot Austin locations.
With its story of a workaholic widower trying to reconnect with his estranged kids and find his balance after the death of a beloved spouse, Walker sounds far less like a remake of Walker, Texas Ranger and in many ways like a remake of Everwood. It tracks that Walker was created for The CW by Anna Fricke, whose writing and producing credits include, yes, Everwood (and Dawson’s Creek and several other very good shows that in no way resemble Walker, Texas Ranger).
The action side of Walker is bad, but the family drama part is sometimes quite likable. At 38, Padalecki feels young to be raising two teens, but that’s a product of his growing up himself on our TVs rather than mathematical impossibility. He has solid, sincere chemistry with both Brinson and Culley, and the family scenes — which also feature Mitch Pileggi (veteran of one Walker, Texas Ranger episode) and Molly Hagan as Walker’s parents — have some appeal, if you can find a way to ignore that whatever genes allowed Walker to be 6’4″ came from neither parent and were passed along to neither child.
The show is less certain on the dynamic between Walker and his new rule-abiding partner, or Walker and his brother Liam (Keegan Allen), who is gay and an attorney because he says those things in dialogue, not because the show has figured out how to illustrate them. There’s a strange scene that may only bother me where Walker and Liam go to a bar and, mid-conversation, Liam excuses himself to make a phone call. He then never returns and it’s never remarked upon, leaving Walker to line-dance with Geri (Odette Annable), a sexy bartender who’s only a guest star and who was one of Walker’s wife’s friends, so clearly we’re not supposed to think there’s a spark between them.
Line-dancing, like food trucks, is presented as a key piece of the Austin backdrop, and the state capitol keeps popping up in the background of shots in case you ever think, “Wait, are we in Houston? Or possibly Dallas?” No, we are not. But, like I said, there’s a solid Texas feel to the series and I assume they’ll be less eager to prove their Austin bona fides exclusively through landmarks in subsequent episodes. Or maybe there will be a BBQ-related murder-of-the-week, like something Fox’s 911: Lone Star, an Austin-set drama that doesn’t shoot in Austin, has done.
With Padalecki, Morgan, Pileggi and Allen, that’s a lot of actors with CW or YA-friendly credentials, one more reason Walker is going to generate curiosity from an audience that doesn’t care at all about the franchise’s origins (and definitely, after the pilot, won’t be able to tell you what a Texas Ranger even is). Those viewers might stick around for subsequent episodes of the Walker family drama. Pity anybody, though, who tunes in hoping for roundhouse kicks and a repository of Chuck Norris jokes.
Cast: Jared Padalecki, Lindsey Morgan, Keegan Allen, Mitch Pileggi, Molly Hagan, Coby Bell, Jeff Pierre, Violet Brinson, Kale Culley
Creator: Anna Fricke, vaguely from the series created by Leslie Greif and Paul Haggis.
Episodes at Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on The CW starting January 21.
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