Switching from stage to the streets
In honor of Steven Seagal: Lawman, here's a list of my own favorite actors-turned-policemen, or vice versa:
True enough, the onetime CHiPs star played a California highway patrolman in the 1970s series. But he also became a sworn reserve officer on the Muncie, Ind., police department for the CBS reality show Armed and Famous.
The former Law & Order star actually worked as an officer for 18 years in Chicago before director Michael Mann cast him in a bit part for the 1981 James Caan thriller Thief.
This standup comic and actor started out as a New York city transit cop for 12 years before landing a mildly amusing, self-titled sitcom on the now-defunct UPN network. He's also appeared in the films Miss Congeniality and 15 Minutes.
She was really the only other Armed and Famous participant who could be called a celebrity.
The mark of a truly self-absorbed individual is a total lack of humor about anything he does — even in the most absurd situations.
So it's no surprise to find that faded action movie star Steven Seagal tackles his latest role — as a real-life reserve sheriff in Jefferson Parish, La. — with the kind of humorless gravitas you'd expect from a guy who probably thinks Above the Law and Under Siege are examples of fine filmmaking.
To the rest of the world, watching an action movie actor freak out regular citizens by showing up to break up bar fights and arrest carjackers is the height of media-fed absurdity. But Seagal speaks to the reality TV cameras following him for the A&E series Steven Seagal: Lawman, as if he were narrating a training film for the FBI — gravelly voice and self-righteous attitude well intact.
According to the show, the reincarnated Tibetan monk and aikido expert has served as a reserve officer on the Jefferson Parish force for about 20 years — recruited to help train the force while shooting a movie in nearby New Orleans — schooling his fellow deputies on marksmanship, hand-to-hand combat and badboy scowling techniques.
So in the era of Octomom and Balloon Boy, it only made sense to try cobbling together a reality series featuring Seagal rolling through the streets of Jefferson Parish. What emerges in the episodes sent to critics, however, is a kind of low-grade version of COPS, featuring a chunky Seagal's tough-guy narration as his fellow deputies handle routine calls such as chasing a disruptive drunk out of a bar.
Before the show debuts at 10 p.m. Wednesday on A&E, here's my short list of the Most Absurd Things in Steven Seagal: Lawman.
The episode titles: Flashy titles such as "The Way of the Gun" and "The Deadly Hand" makes each episode sound way more exciting than describing what actually happens: "Seagal watches a carjacker chased down" or "Seagal watches a guy Tasered after kicking out a patrol car window."
His title: Reserve Deputy Chief Steven Seagal.
His tough-guy dialogue: Explaining that they are entering a bad neighborhood, Seagal helpfully notes "These are the 'jects. You know, the projects." (For the uninformed, that refers to public housing projects, which often struggle with high crime rates.)
The takedowns: In the first episode, more than a dozen officers struggle to take down a suspected carjacker they had engaged in a high-speed chase. While someone yells for a Taser, Seagal remains cool, calling for everyone to calm down. When the moonlighting actor is the calmest officer in the scrum, that may be a problem.
The constant references to a Zen state of calm: Just before officers had to Taser a prisoner already handcuffed in a patrol car, Seagal notes ominously "This gentleman is not a very good Zen practitioner." Um, yeah.