CBS' S.W.A.T. Premiere: Grade It!


Nine times out of 10, getting a major promotion at work is cause for celebration… unless it’s a job change that will ruin your friendships with colleagues, cast a pall over your office romance and threaten to turn an entire city against you.

In the series premiere of CBS’ S.W.A.T. — a procedural drama based on the 2003 film, which itself was based on the 1970s TV show — Daniel “Hondo” Harrelson learns this the hard way. After getting tapped to lead the very S.W.A.T unit that he’s been a part of for years as a sergeant, Hondo is forced to confront the unfortunate circumstances that got him the job — and the consequences that come with his new role.

Before you tell us your thoughts on S.W.A.T.‘s debut, let’s recap the events of Thursday’s premiere:

Hondo — played by Criminal Minds vet Shemar Moore — belongs to a specialized tactical unit based in Los Angeles. This particular team is only brought in when the you-know-what is about to hit the fan, and that’s exactly what’s happening when the episode opens; Hondo and his team members are trying to close in on a group of criminals, leading to a foot chase on the streets of L.A. Though most of the suspects are successfully gunned down, Sergeant Buck Spivey accidentally shoots an innocent, unarmed black teenager, leading to Buck’s swift termination from the S.W.A.T. unit.

Enter Hondo, who is just as quickly named the new head of the tactical unit, replacing Buck and leapfrogging over his colleague, Deacon Kay, who’d clearly been eyeing that same promotion for a long time. There’s immediate tension within the unit, and it becomes obvious why Hondo got the job in the first place: Yes, he’s an excellent sergeant with great leadership skills. But he’s also the only black man on the team, and he’s a born-and-bred Angeleno. Translation? He’s being tapped to bridge the uncomfortable gap between the black community and the police force. Easy peasy.

The first 48 hours of Hondo’s new gig are no picnic. His romantic relationship with supervisor Jessica Cortez hits a snag, now that he’s officially in charge of the unit; the team gets a mouthy new recruit, Jim Street, who has no idea how to be an effective S.W.A.T. team member; and Hondo is encountering more and more black people who look down on him for being an officer, when he should be siding with his own people.

But there’s a bigger problem to focus on: the rash of race-related crimes that Buck’s accidental shooting of Raymont Harris triggered in the city. First, two white people are gunned down by a sniper in the park, followed by anonymous threats that black children will be killed on their way home from school the next afternoon. (In case you were wondering why this show is on at 10 pm… you’ve got your answer.)

Though he doesn’t anticipate that the police force will be singing “Kumbaya” with black residents anytime soon, Hondo decides to lean into his familiarity with L.A.’s black population. The only way he’ll get solid leads about this recent wave of crime will be to treat this marginalized community like family. So he flirts with the women at the nail salon and befriends potential sources, and it becomes clear to Hondo’s white team members that he’s the only one with a real grasp on how the people of South L.A. really live.

Soon enough, Hondo and his unit have enough information to take down the people responsible for the shootings and death threats: a group of men, black and white, who are completely disillusioned with the current government. As it turns out, these guys weren’t driven by race relations; they were driven by politics. They took advantage of the city’s frustration, drove people to turn on one another and hatched a plan to overthrow the government and start anew. (It doesn’t work. Hondo’s team, of course, shoots each member of the group before they can carry out their coup.)

All told, Hondo spends this first hour proving he’s capable of leading a unit and getting the police force to understand that Los Angeles is more than just black versus white. But the dynamic has clearly shifted between Hondo and his colleagues, for better or for worse. And before any of them can reflect on what this changing of the guard really means for the team, they’re paged for a brand-new case.

OK, your turn! What did you think of S.W.A.T.‘s debut? Grade the series premiere in our poll below, then hit the comments to back up your choice!

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