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Seagal's 'Lawman' is more ego trip than reality TV

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:

Erik Estrada

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.

Dennis Farina

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.

John Diresta

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.

LaToya Jackson

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.

TiVo

Hoarders, 10 p.m. Monday, A&E: It has been called the best depiction of mental illness on television. This heart-rending series follows hoarders in crisis, showing how people who can't throw anything away can wind up losing homes, relatives and self-respect. The illness itself is related to obsessive-compulsive disorder; many sufferers cope with stress by holding onto objects they inordinately invest with personal value. In the first show of the second season, Monday's episode features a 68-year-old woman whose house is so cluttered she didn't notice not one, but two dead cats under the pile of objects in her home.

TiMaybe

Scrubs, 9 p.m. Tuesday, WFTS-Ch. 28: Here's the deal: If you love Scrubs' well-established absurdist tone, you will probably like these new episodes, which introduce a slew of newer, younger characters. Zach Braff's John "J.D." Dorian is teaching at the hospital's medical school, where new student Lucy Bennett (Kerry Bishe) takes over his old role as wide-eyed klutz. But the rhythm remains the same, as John C. McGinley's terror of a doctor Perry Cox takes over abusing the new students the same way he terrorized the old ones. So if you didn't like the old Scrubs, you won't be digging this one, either.

Seagal's 'Lawman' is more ego trip than reality TV 11/28/09 [Last modified: Friday, November 27, 2009 6:36pm]

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