SEALs are everywhere on TV these days—or special operators who act like SEALs but are part of a super-secret unit with no particular designation other than guys who kill bad guys in TV shows.
Here’s a rundown of current TV shows about covert operations—including a couple of well-kept secrets from overseas.
6. The Last Ship (TNT) — Grade: D
The Last Ship has gone from an unexpected pleasure for three seasons, to the loud, stupid show I originally expected from Michael Bay in its fourth season. It makes this list because every major character on the ship, including the captain, is able to keep up with its SEAL team on covert missions, which make up about three-quarters of the shows (or at least they did when I quit watching).
The premise has gone from creepy to silly, as the virus outbreak somehow mutated from killing people to killing all crops (but only plant life that produces food) and the world is fighting over the only seeds that can resist it. Coincidentally, the USS Nathan James is right in the middle of it, as is their missing captain, who disappeared due to the overburdens of command.
Bad guys with unlimited resources, a Mediterranean Sea that seems about the size of an inland lake, and escape plans that include swimming through a hurricane force storm and other eye-rollers were just a few of the last straws for me with The Last Ship.
5. Valor (CW) — Grade: D+
The youth-oriented CW network gets some points for ambition in this fog-of-war conspiracy oriented serialized thriller about a Special Forces helicopter unit. Like the Meg Ryan movie, Courage Under Fire, Valor flashes back to a mission gone bad while the principals are being honored for their actions.
Unfortunately, like pretty much every CW show, this is mostly about too-pretty people having sex, with not enough gritty warfare.
4, The Brave (NBC) — Grade C+
NBC’s entry into the Special Forces shows sweepstakes is a not bad attempt to water down the Cinemax show Strike Back for traditional network TV.
The Brave is a TV-diverse special forces team that reports directly to a DIA deputy director played by Anne Heche, who, along with some awfully young-looking intelligence analysts, directs the team’s every move as they watch them by means of drone and surveillance cam back at HQ.
That gimmick gets pretty irritating, and it doesn’t help that that the team is played by competent, but forgettable actors. It also doesn’t help that team leader Adam Dalton (Mike Vogel) is a dead ringer for the lead Navy SEAL in The Last Ship, and that he seems to be able to operate in Arab countries with his reddish-blond hair without comment, as long as he wears a checkered scarf.
The Brave is occasionally clever, and its heart is mostly in the right place. It’s just not must-see TV.
3. SEAL Team (CBS) — Grade: B+
SEAL Team doesn’t get points for originality—it’s basically the Navy version of The Unit minus the homefront soap opera—but it makes up for that in execution.
With strong tactics, realistic training sequences, and plausible scenarios, SEAL Team is a solid formula military procedural. It is also helped immensely by the charismatic presence of David Boreanaz (Bones) and a supporting cast with an easy camaraderie that makes them believable as deadly good guys—especially as compared to The Brave.
That chemistry and the more realistic procedure give SEAL Team the nod as the traditional networks’ best military drama. I think that Harry Dale, the SEAL I wrote about in The Forest of Assassins, would really like this show.
2. Nobel (Netflix) — Grade: A
Norwegian Special Forces? You betcha.
Nobel stars Aksel Hennie (The Martian) as a soldier battling the Taliban in Afghanistan, and treachery at home, as a Norwegian diplomat (who happens to be his wife’s boss) angles for a Nobel Peace Prize by negotiating an oil deal with the Taliban.
Throw in some mysterious Chinese businessmen, an Afghan version of polo involving a dead goat, a wife on the run from her important Islamist husband, and you’ve got a thoroughly contemporary and ultra-realistic thriller.
And it’s not something you’ve seen before.
The second episode moved a little slowly, and it took me a while to get motivated to watch it again. But then we watched the last six episodes in one tension-filled binge. You’ve been warned.
1.Fauda (Netflix) — Grade: A+
Shot on location in Israel, Fauda is as gripping as it gets. This addictive binge watch starts with a raid on a Palestinian mosque and never lets up.
When an elite Israeli military counterintelligence unit gets wind that a terrorist they thought was dead may be about to make a surprise visit to his daughter’s wedding, their former commander comes out of retirement to finish the job.
Fauda is a no-holds-barred look at the front lines of terror, and the amazing locations give it an added sense of realism.
My advice when watching is to go with English dubbing. That way, when the Israelis are speaking in Hebrew to each other, it’s in English and when they are undercover speaking Arabic, it’s in English subtitles. That gives the best sense of the situation.