It should come as no surprise that USA Network’s “Shooter” is one of the best programs on television. It draws inspiration from the novels of Stephen Hunter, a right-of-center novelist who has always thrived in his own corner of the literature sandbox.
The show follows the adventures of former Marine sniper Bob Lee Swagger (played by Ryan Phillippe, also a producer) — who was played by Mark Wahlberg in the 2007 film of the same name. It’s currently airing its second season, which draws inspiration from Hunter’s 1998 novel, “Time to Hunt.”
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There’s been a serious lack of mainstream media attention for the project — aside from some highlights of a recent Phillippe injury that cut the newest season short. Yet “Shooter” was the top-rated program on USA Network in its first season, and it holds consistent ratings in its new season as the now second highest-rated show on the channel.
You could say the series has struck a chord with audiences without doing so for traditional critics. The appeal of the series and its status as one of television’s most impressive sleeper hits have everything to do with its subject matter — and the way that subject matter is handled.
Bob Lee Swagger, as in the books, is not just a protagonist who uses firearms but one who owns them, knows them, and masters them. His practical knowledge of guns typically helps him get out of situations in which bureaucrats think they have one up on the ex-Marine.
Like Hunter’s knowledgeable writing about guns, “Shooter” works on a near-weekly basis to combat negative stereotypes about responsible gun owners.
It’s also a show that battles veteran stereotypes, something recognized by the organization Got Your 6, which has endorsed the show for its portrayal of vets.
One episode in the first season brought Swagger to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where we come face-to-face with the harsh realities and aftermath of war. However, the veteran characters on the show, injured or not, are never used as pawns to make political points — but they are rather well-rounded human beings. It’s something we unfortunately do not see enough of from Hollywood, as many veteran portrayals are one-note tools used to push agendas forward.
The second season of “Shooter” has pushed more of this, as Swagger and some of his ex-platoon members have found themselves hunted by a mysterious enemy.
On the surface, it’s an action romp about government conspiracies and tough men and women who show how much individuals can do in the face of impossible odds; yet “Shooter” benefits from the current crop of television that surrounds the show. There’s nothing else like it.
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Similar to the appeal of the recently canceled “Last Man Standing,” “Shooter” displays characters Hollywood generally ignores — the right-of-center, the Midwesterners, the veterans, the gun owners. It doesn’t get many pats on the back from the press, but its ratings success suggests it is seriously connecting with television viewers, as “Standing” did.
That said, “Shooter” is also an impressive piece of entertainment. Well-studied and -executed, it’s a fine salute to the writing of Hunter, an author who has long set himself apart with his character of Bob Lee Swagger, a man always willing to defend himself and loved ones in the face of challenges. Thankfully, he now does it on a weekly basis.
“Shooter” airs Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. ET on USA Network.