S.W.A.T. gets more political

Shemar Moore plays a sergeant newly tasked with heading the Los Angeles Police Department's elite Special Weapons And Tactics unit in S.W.A.T.
Shemar Moore plays a sergeant newly tasked with heading the Los Angeles Police Department's elite Special Weapons And Tactics unit in S.W.A.T.PHOTO: SONY PICTURES TELEVISION

New crime drama promises ripped-from-the-headlines storylines covering everything from police shootings to Trump-era politics

To the never-ending list of Hollywood remakes, you can add S.W.A.T., a new crime drama about an elite law-enforcement unit.

But the show - which airs on Fox (Singtel TV Channel 330 and StarHub TV Channel 505) on Fridays at 9pm - plans to get way more political than the 2003 movie of the same name that it is based on, itself a remake of a 1970s series.

S.W.A.T.'s creators and star Shemar Moore promise ripped-from-the-headlines storylines covering everything from police shootings to Trump-era politics. And unlike many other American cop dramas, this will not be uncritically pro-police.

Moore - best known for his role from 2005 to last year on the hit crime procedural Criminal Minds (2005 to now) - plays a sergeant newly tasked with heading the Los Angeles Police Department's elite Special Weapons And Tactics (S.W.A.T.) unit.

He gets the job after the former chief is sacked for accidentally shooting an unarmed black teenager, a storyline that echoes several controversial real-life cases.

Addressing reporters in Los Angeles earlier this year, executive producers Aaron Rahsaan Thomas and Shawn Ryan say Moore's character, Hondo, will embody the ambivalence many Americans feel towards police officers, especially in black communities.

Hence a scene like the one where a black man pointedly asks Hondo, who is black too, if his loyalty lies with the African-American community or his fellow officers in blue: "What colour are you supposed to be, brother - black or blue?"

Are we going to fix what's going on between (police) and civilians? I don't know, but maybe we'll create some understanding, some compassion, some patience.

ACTOR SHEMAR MOORE on what he hopes new drama S.W.A.T. will achieve

Thomas himself grew up in a neighbourhood in the Midwest "that had a very complicated view towards police officers".

"On one hand, a 12-year-old kid who was a neighbour of mine was shot and killed by a police officer. On the other hand, another neighbour of mine was an actual police officer, so we had a love-hate relationship with the police growing up," says the writer-producer, who co-wrote big-budget hip-hop drama The Get Down (2016 to 2017).

"I always felt as though someone who understood both sides of the Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter debate would make for a fascinating character," he says, referring to the movement to end police brutality against blacks and the countermovement defending police officers.

Ryan, who co-developed the show with Thomas, is no stranger to such ethical grey areas. He created the Emmy-and Golden Globe-winning drama The Shield (2002 to 2008), which was praised for its portrayal of corrupt police officers.

He says it is crucial that Moore's character be someone who had grown up in south Los Angeles' ethnically diverse communities and now "sees the people that are being policed as humans and as neighbours and as friends".

Moore and his S.W.A.T. teammates are depicted as heroes, but Ryan adds: "I think you can be pro-police and yet also pro-truth". He says the show will not shy away from addressing "instances and times and events that shouldn't happen" in police encounters with the communities they are policing.

S.W.A.T. will be action-packed, he adds, but admits that his "biggest worry is that people assume this is just a dumb action show".

"You hear 'S.W.A.T.' and you know there's going to be some gunplay and some chases. And we're going to have some elements that are very familiar.

"But I give viewers a lot of credit. I think they recognise the truth, appreciate the truth and can embrace the truth when you show it to them."

Moore - who played a lawenforcement officer for 12 years on Criminal Minds - is heartened by the fact that there is "a diverse group of people" working on S.W.A.T., both in front of and behind the camera.

His castmates include Mexican-American star Stephanie Sigman, who starred in the recent horror flick Annabelle: Creation, and Quantico's Chinese-American actor David Lim. One of the executive producers is Justin Lin, who directed several films in The Fast And The Furious franchise.

"We've got black, we've got Latina, we've got Asian, we've got white," says Moore, 47.

And while the series has borrowed the theme song and title of the original 1975 show, "those are the only similarities - we're taking on real life, we're taking on the Trump years".

"I don't care who you voted for, it's just what's happening today. It's not just black versus blue or black versus white - it's every ethnicity, it's fear, it's racism, it's terrorism. It's the subject matter of today."

He hopes the show can help build bridges between communities and the police.

"Are we going to fix what's going on between (police) and civilians? I don't know, but maybe we'll create some understanding, some compassion, some patience."

•S.W.A.T. airs on Fox (Singtel TV Channel 330 and StarHub TV Channel 505) on Fridays at 9pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 08, 2017, with the headline 'S.W.A.T. gets more political'. Print Edition | Subscribe