A Delay in Airing an Action-Packed Drama Amidst Tragic Events
For yet another time, a network has decided to postpone the airing of a TV episode due to its unfortunate resemblance to recent real-life events. USA Network, after delaying the season 1 finale of Mr. Robot (which depicted a fatal shooting on live TV, similar to the one in a Virginia news station) and TNT’s The Last Ship season premiere (which depicted a nightclub shooting, similar to the one in Orlando), has now pushed back the launch of its new drama Shooter. Originally set to debut on July 19, the series will now premiere on July 26, following the sniper’s attack on police officers in Dallas on July 7.
The decision is understandable, given the nature of the show. Shooter follows the journey of Ryan Phillippe’s character, a highly skilled marksman, through a series of violent encounters. Previously portrayed by Mark Wahlberg in the 2007 film adaptation, the character, named Bob Lee Swagger, exudes a sense of ultra-American patriotism and virility. However, one cannot help but question when USA thought it would be appropriate to release a show that glorifies the skills of a sniper like Swagger.
The show begins with Phillippe’s character describing the nature of a “killshot”: “Like a marionette with the strings cut, you’re dead before you can process what happened.” This description is accompanied by still photos depicting the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr., Jack Ruby, and the Kent State University students. Later in the premiere, a character visits Swagger’s home and uncovers an arsenal of guns, far exceeding what a typical private citizen would possess. As a joke, the character, played by Omar Epps, remarks, “I see you’re still a bleeding-heart liberal.” In response, Phillippe’s character quips, “Never know when shit’s gonna get weird.” The show treats the idea of citizens arming themselves to protect against insurrection as nothing more than a joke. However, as the plot unfolds, it becomes clear that Swagger, a former Marine, possesses the physical and tactical skills to outsmart and outgun his adversaries.
Using imagery from real-life gun violence incidents to tell a story that celebrates an individual’s prowess in violence feels particularly difficult to accept in the current climate. But even apart from the timing, one must question if this is a story worth telling. There is a significant distinction between the delay imposed upon Mr. Robot last year and Shooter. In the case of Mr. Robot, guns were incidental to the plot, serving to highlight the chaotic state of society. Any resemblance to real-life events was purely coincidental. On the other hand, Shooter starts with a blatant endorsement of an individual’s extraordinary arsenal at home, implying that it is the only means of protection against a ruthless world. Even the movie American Sniper had more moral ambiguity than this simple celebration of Swagger’s talents.
Paranoia in art can often provide insight into the times we live in. Consider the numerous films of the Nixon era that portrayed fears of surveillance and government overreach. However, those works made a solid point about society. Shooter, on the other hand, exploits fears dating back to the Kennedy assassination, as well as current tragedies, to sensationalize its storyline. While delaying the show after a tragic shooting may allow viewers a week’s distance from the real-life event that aligns with the show’s plot, it ultimately comes across as silly and contrived. The show capitalizes on the nation’s unease and the ongoing debates surrounding gun ownership to create cheap thrills. If USA Network is committed to airing the show, it should at least be upfront about its intentions.
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