Walker Pilot Review By A Die-Hard Supernatural And Jared Padalecki Fangirl: Upgraded, Yet Dated
Supernatural’s ending broke my heart. Spanning 15 years, countless characters that I fell in love with, such rich lore and mythology, all the thousands of pop-culture references entrenched in its writing, and of course, those love stories (canon and not canon) that made Supernatural one of my favourite stories ever. So obsessed I am with the show that I’ve even committed to getting a tattoo with some SPN element in it. And that’s why getting to watch my boys, Jared Padalecki (Sam Winchester) and Jensen Ackles (Dean Winchester) carry on in their careers with Walker and The Boys had me both excited and nervous. Excited, because I wouldn’t have to wait too long to see them on screen. And nervous because, would I be able to enjoy them as other characters after 15 years of knowing them as Sam and Dean?
I’ll admit, I was more apprehensive about Jared’s new stint than Jensen’s. The latter was moving to an already well-received show, and under the more-than-able leadership of Supernatural creator Eric Kripke, who also is the showrunner on The Boys. Add to that Jensen playing Soldier Boy, the parody of a Marvel superhero with his Nazi sympathising being only the tip of the iceberg that is his crazy character arc, I knew Jackles would be okay somehow.
But for Jared Padalecki, I felt a lot of big brother Dean’s protectiveness for his Sammy. As Cordell Walker, he was stepping into an entirely new series. Though it was a legacy, being the reboot of the nine-season long Walker Texas Ranger starring the legendary Chuck Norris, it was still fresh ground and a risky move. The whole ‘TV cop’ who is the quintessential macho hero up against all odds and always a show of strength and good character is a dated trope that lacks conviction. Not just to the American audience, but to a global one, considering police anarchy and violence are a problem in America, India and many other countries. We want to see grey, more humane characters and none of that rigid hero masculinity anymore.
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There was also the teeny-tiny mental barrier that my SPN fan brain wouldn’t be able to process Jared Padalecki as anything other than Sam Winchester. But I cajoled my heart into thinking, “That’s Sammy, right there, living Dean’s cowboy dreams! We gotta support him!” Besides, Jared Padalecki is a really amazing actor, having played so many versions of Sam, Lucifer, Gadreel, Soulless Sam and what not on SPN. I had zero doubts about him but only about the material he had to work with.
Unfortunately, my doubts were not without reason.
Walker takes a risk in rebooting a story that’s dated to begin with
The pilot begins with Cordell Walker (Jared Padalecki) meeting up with wife Emily (Genevieve Padalecki) before she’s off with a friend of her’s. She tells him to go have fun on game night with their two kids, who are at Cordell’s parents’ home. He tells her to be safe. And you know what that means? She’s not gonna be.
In a very rushed death scene that doesn’t give Padalecki any chance to flex those well-oiled acting chops, Emily is gone, and we get a time jump to a few months later. Cordell returns from cracking a big case that kept him away for three months, still grieving and grappling with losing the love of his life. His kids, August (Kale Culley) and Stella (Violet Brinson; who looks so much like a cross between Christina Hendricks and Bryce Dallas Howard), are being raised by his parents Bonham (Mitch Pileggi) and Abeline (Molly Hagan), and his younger Assistant District Attorney brother, Liam (Keegan Allen). But instead of coming straight to his family home for his welcome back party, he goes to the home he and Emily shared, gazing longing at a gazebo where he sees the ghost of his beloved dead wife. Not in a Supernatural way, in a very Hallmark emotional montage way.
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Back at work, his old partner Larry (Coby Bell) is his new boss, and his new partner is a rarity— a female Texas Ranger named Micki Ramirez (Lindsey Morgan). They also get their first case, which is a super-duper basic case that exposes a drug cartel that seems so easy, it’s almost a joke. But it gives us an insight into Walker’s work ethic. Like the fact that despite being a workaholic, he is casual and his ways aren’t always abiding by the rules and non-violent. This clearly pisses off Ramirez, who sees it as a threat to her already difficult task of making a mark in a male-dominated profession.
We also get parallel storylines of Cordell’s parenting problems. His 16-year-old daughter, Stella, gets arrested and of course, daddy Walker is less understanding more parent to her. His son 14-year-old, Augustus, on the other hand, is a good boy, but as Walker’s mom points out, Auggie is too twisted up on the inside because he is trying hard to not be trouble for anyone, especially his absentee father.
Walker rides with progressive upgrades, but the subject and execution feel dated as ever
You’ll notice that little upgrades that reflect the changing times between Chuck Norris’ original Walker Texas Ranger and the new Walker have been added here and there. You’ve got a queer couple (Liam and his fiancé), you’ve got a female Texas Ranger; you’ve even got Cordell offering to help his daughter’s BFF’s illegal immigrant family to show you the kind of man he is. At the dinner scene, when Cordell’s father says something that politically incorrect, he’s reprimanded for it too. And the biggest change of all is that Walker does not seem to conform to the typical macho stereotype of mard ko dard nahi hota. You see him vulnerable, struggling, grieving, things that most or our yesteryear’s onscreen heroes wouldn’t be seen dead doing.
So where’s the problem?
The execution which feels a tad boring and a whole lot of dated, if I’m being honest. The episode is written by Anna Fricke (also an EP) and directed by Jessica Yu. And it felt like they didn’t put enough effort to make these upgrades stick. The case that Walker and Ramirez work has no meat on it, rudimentary action and felt disengaging. Their buddy cop moments didn’t hit that sweet spot where I’d start caring about their banter.
The only relationships that I wanted to see more of are Cordell and Emily’s because she’s played by Jared’s IRL wife Gen Padalecki; Cordell and his father, because Mitch Pileggi already played his granddaddy in Supernatural and that connect is established; and Cordell and Liam, because my God, the resemblance between Keegan Allen and Jared Padalecki is unmissable. Again, none of them are because I was invested in their stories, which says enough.
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Jared Padalecki is not the Texas Ranger I expected. That’s both good and bad.
If you’re as obsessed with SPN as I am, you’ll remember the episode 6 X 18 ‘Frontierland’ when Dean and Sam go back in time to the Old West to gather the Colt from Samuel Colt and phoenix ash to kill Eve. In this weird foreshadowing, Dean introduces Sam as Walker, Texas Ranger. And I can tell you, Jared looked more comfortable as a cowboy then than he does as the actual Walker.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the updated version that is more in touch with his emotions and not all about gunslinging and solving crime. And yet, I couldn’t build that emotional connect with his character, which wasn’t helped by the very uninteresting dialogues that belong to Hallmark movies. This builds a sort of confusion in my head. Are we supposed to take Walker seriously as a story rooted in these progressive times? Or are we supposed to take it as this highly dramatic fictionalised story like the original, because that’s the only place for that kind of writing and background score.
You know, I always wished to see more of domestic Supernatural, where Sam, Dean and Castiel get to be dads, either to Jack or their own kids (even Miracle!). And I won’t go into the series finale, that robbed us of several of those things, and gave us only a montage of Sam raising Dean Jr. But it was difficult for me to accept Jared as the father of two teenagers! You’d think it’s because we’re always going on about Jared being such a baby in con videos and playing the little brother on the show. But no, it’s really hard to process his character playing dad to 16-year-olds so soon!
Because we don’t see much of who Walker was, both with his family and at his work, before Emily died, it is hard to understand the change that he has undergone and how his family is reacting to it. The scenes that they do have feel so corny, I can actually picture Dean saying…
In fact, if truth be told, I did spend a lot of time pondering how Dean, who’s as hard-core a fan of cowboys as I am of Supernatural, would react to this show. And I’d rather sell my soul to Crowley than answer that question.
Walker still has a chance to play its cards right
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I think the biggest issue was that we only had the pilot for the review, which offers very little to go by. And when that little is not appealing, it’s quite the downer.
From what hope I can gather, I think Walker does have a few lives left. The biggest opportunity is if it nails how it goes about with the story of why Emily Walker was killed. It’s the central theme of who this new Walker is, and if it becomes some half-assed cop-out, then there’s no salvation. There’s also plenty to explore in Walker’s relationships with his children, a legit chance to show how people in law enforcement struggle with keeping personal and professional separate, after they’ve seen so much bad. In Walker’s case, there’s personal trauma too so it is bound to affect his aggression, since he is actively avoiding dealing with his grief.
The queer brother and female cop arcs, if developed with tact, could also amount to something if they are treated as independent and important parts. Otherwise, it is just tokenism. Oh, and the cases that Walker solves, those need a massive reboot. Unfortunately, we’ve seen so many crime procedurals that it feels like we’ve seen it all. So they’re gonna have to get real creative! And of course, there’s always the action and the buddy-cop dynamic that could get amped up and give us something more to look forward to.
I didn’t want to write this review, at first, because negative reviews can be discouraging. And the fangirl in me couldn’t bring myself to do this. I love Jared Padalecki and I can understand the sheer pressure on the guy to shed his Winchester plaid, don a cowboy hat and win over a fandom that is, for the lack of a better word, very demanding of its heroes. But then I remember that we’ve never been just fans, we are the #SPNFamilyForever. And family can be both, your biggest cheerleaders and supporters, as well as your most honest critics.
I sincerely hope that I’m proven wrong, and that Walker picks up substance on his future rides. I’m a J2M loyalist and I will watch everything they do at least once. But it would be great if I actually kept returning to Walker because I was enjoying it, and not out of sheer Supernatural fangirl solidarity.
Walker airs on The CW but is streaming in India on Voot Select.