Steven Seagal: Lawman is Actually Not Bad

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Why anyone who lives in the district where Steven Seagal works as a policeman would commit a crime is beyond me, but thank Buddha they do. As of last night's premiere, the Zen-teaching, femur-snapping, advice-mumbling action-movie star is the centerpiece of his own A&E; reality series, Steven Seagal: Lawman, and it's actually kind of... awesome.

Seagal, of course, is the star of such full-throttle DVD hits as Under Siege and that one where he threw a Rasta gangster down an elevator shaft. But—and this sounds just like a tagline from one of his movies—there's more to Steven Seagal than you might think. The one-time punchline has been a deputy sheriff in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, for 20 years now, keeping his second career out of the limelight... (cue action movie trailer voice!) UNTIL NOW!

Steven Seagal: Lawman is several reality shows rolled into one—and the first reality show starring a celebrity who seems like he doesn't want to be famous. Seagal has said he decided to do Lawman to bring to light the work police do and the troubles that plague post-Katrina New Orleans. And you know what? I believe him.

Instead of showboating Seagal as an ass-kicking policeman, the producers highlight him for what he is: a serious officer of the law, a mentor to his coworkers, and a fiercely loyal friend who sometimes spouts Zen wisdom that's both humorous and eerily sage-like. Combined with the heart-pounding ride-alongs, Lawman strikes a balance between showing Seagal as a big-time movie star who gets recognized by the people he arrests and an honest working-class policeman just trying to do a good job and protect the people.

But let's face it: This is Steven Seagal, and there's a line between serious TV and overt campiness that Lawman dances across. Obviously, producers couldn't completely ignore Seagal's mystique, so they've employed a technique I like to call "Seagal-o-vision." When no-gooders walking the street tip off that they're up to no good—a slight of hand into the pocket! Is it a gun!? (it's a gun)—the screen goes all wacky, the "tell" is highlighted in some weird Mentalist way, and Seagal moves into action. Somehow, it works spectacularly.

Maybe it's because I had low expectations, but Steven Seagal: Lawman was a major surprise. I will, however, reserve final judgment until the show highlights his other hobby: Being a musician.

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