By Marty Mulrooney
Steven Seagal. The first words that spring to most people’s minds upon hearing his name are: action star. Well, star might be an exaggeration. Perhaps washed-up action star would be more appropriate? (Ouch, yet certainly true.) But did you know he is also a cop in the State of Louisiana?
Seagal hasn’t been on my radar since 2001’s Exit Wounds (he only managed one more studio film after that before moving straight to DVD) and he certainly never made another film as good as Under Siege, which was campy fun at best.
But then, out of nowhere, he stars in a reality TV show (which he produces himself of course) that mixes Cops with every naff action flick he has ever made. The result is comedy genius.
The opening credits, accompanied by a voiceover courtesy of the walrus-like dulcet tones of Mr Seagal himself, are the first indication that this is going to be a pant-wettingly funny viewing experience:
“I make a living in the movies, but for the past 20 years… I’ve also been a cop. And along with some of the finest deputies on the force, I serve the people of Jefferson Parish Louisiana. My name is Steven Seagal. That’s right… Steven Seagal, Deputy Sheriff.”
Already, 99% of male viewers are going to be hooked. It isn’t that Mr Seagal is an action legend is the style of Arnie or Sly either… it is precisely that he isn’t that makes this show such utter genius.
Facts first. Seagal may not be as trim as he used to be, but it would be stupid for anyone to underestimate him. He was the first foreigner to operate an aikido dojo in Japan: as a martial artist at least, he is the real deal. He also has freaking huge hands (quite scary) and knows how to use them.
Which makes it all the more hilarious when he imparts his Zen-like advice to his fellow cops on the force. A superb marksman, at one point he aids a fellow cop during Firearms Qualification Practice:
“You know, being a lifelong practitioner of the martial arts, I try to teach them not to fight the recoil of the weapon, but more to become one with the weapon and let it become an extension of their body.”
He illustrates his point by continually shooting bullets from his pistol into the same hole on the practice board. Meanwhile, the real cop pops holes all over the goddamn place, before turning and grinning into camera, exclaiming with glee:
After what ah’ seen today, he could take a gnat off a fly’s ass!
At another point, Mr Seagal is shown in the passenger seat of a huge police SUV, driving around a dangerous part of the neighbourhood in the dead of night, narrating some more:
“When the world speeds by for others, I see things for what they really are. A cock of the head, a foot planted forward or back, a flick of the wrist… they all tell me somethin’. Whether somebody is gonna fight, pull a gun or run.”
Please note that this is illustrated further by the camera pausing as Mr Seagal looks out the window, colours draining away as he uses his Stevey-sense to zone in on potential threats, the accompanying whooshing sounds going into overdrive.
Now, this would all be quite painfully stupid if it wasn’t for the fact that Steven Seagal is obviously in on the joke: he knows all too well that the cameras are there. He is playing a part. And for the first time ever in front of a camera, he actually plays his part to perfection. He is the public perception of Steven Seagal, he knows all too well what people expect. He gives it to us in abundance.
During one high speed chase, he barks suggestions to the real cop driving beside him, just as if he is in a Hollywood movie:
Steven Seagal: “Go to the right!” Real Cop Driving: “Stevie, let me drive.” Steven Seagal: “Just letting you know where the holes are! Watch this guy… you’re good! Clear right, clear right!”
I have watched several episodes now and none have disappointed me yet. Joking aside, there are actually some really good events that unfold (if you are into this kind of thing), including shootings and drug-rated crimes being policed. The addition of Steven Seagal just seems to make it all so much more bizarre, funny and original. Even the criminals can’t believe it.
Taken for what it is, this new series is quite frankly genius. It isn’t meant to be taken seriously at all, yet the fact that Steven Seagal is always so deadly serious at all times is the true key to the success of the show.
As he says in a later episode whilst teaching some new recruits self-defence training, without a hint of irony in his voice at all:
“Some of you know me, some of you don’t. I have been doing the marital arts for over 40 years. So you can look at me as a movie star and say “hey man, Steven Seagal’s here, he’s a movie star!” Or, you can wipe that sh*t outta your head and think: Steven Seagal can save my life.”
Somewhat unintentional comedy gold then, and a real find for the A&E Network: the premiere episode attracted over 3.4 million viewers, the highest ever viewing figure for an A&E premier.
9 OUT OF 10