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‘S.W.A.T.’ review: Shemar Moore shines in first lead role but new cop show is bit familiar

Alex Russell and Shemar Moore, right, star in

Alex Russell and Shemar Moore, right, star in "S.W.A.T." Credit: CBS / Bill Inoshita

THE SERIES “S.W.A.T.”

WHEN | WHERE Premieres Thursday at 10 p.m. on WLNY/10/55. The show will normally air on CBS/2, but is pre-empted Thursday by the Jets game.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT Former Marine and now Los Angeles S.W.A.T. (Special Weapons and Tactics) Officer Daniel “Hondo” Harrelson (Shemar Moore) is named sergeant after his predecessor is fired for accidentally shooting a black teen during a firefight in the South Central streets where Hondo grew up. He’s picked for the “optics,” his chief cynically confides to someone, but Hondo has no interest in optics. He does hope to build trust between his old neighborhood and the cops. His squad — including trusted David “Deacon” Kay (Jay Harrington) and cocky newbie Jim Street (Alex Russell) — is willing to try. His boss and secret lover Jessica Cortez (Stephanie Sigman) is, too. This series is based on the 1975-76 show of the same name, and 2003 movie adaptation.

MY SAY “S.W.A.T.” does not disappoint expectations — if expectations are bullets, blood, bodies, bad guys, bombs, busts and blarney. Oh, yes, indeed, there’s some blarney here. This is a CBS cop procedural. How could there not be?

 Now that you’ve been reassured (or warned), here’s the surprise: It’s not bad. Star action director Justin Lin is one of the executive producers, which may help explain the slick professionalism and high-octane violence. The cast is filled with seasoned pros in supporting roles, like Kenny Johnson (“The Shield”), Peter Onorati (“Cop Rock”) and Patrick St. Esprit (“Sons of Anarchy”). They can sling the hard-boiled TV cop talk with the best of ’em because they’ve slung it so many times before.

 What’s special, however, is the above-the-line talent. The pilot was written by showrunners Shawn Ryan (“The Shield”) and Aaron Rahsaan Thomas, who drew on his own upbringing in Kansas City for its Black Lives Matter theme. Of course, all he had to do was look at the news for research, but Thomas did insist on dragging his real world — and real-world consequences — into the show. In at least parts of Thursday’s pilot, he actually does.

Then there’s Moore. He’s good, too. As the top cop, he’s “fluid” and “frosty,” to use a little S.W.A.T. talk. He’s ripped, too. Call this the shrewdest bit of casting here. As an African-American, the former “Criminal Minds” star is also the first solo black male lead in a new CBS fall drama since Dennis Haysbert headlined “The Unit” back in the mid-aughts. Call that the most long overdue bit of casting.

 But here’s the problem. In the other three episodes CBS offered for review, “S.W.A.T.” leaves the streets, or at least the inner city ones, and becomes indistinguishable from any other prime-time cop show. You know: bullets, bombs and bad guys. “S.W.A.T.” had a chance to do something different, maybe even provocative. So far, the same old-same old.

BOTTOM LINE Moore’s good in his first lead role; his new cop show is familiar.

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