"My name is Bob Lee Swagger. I did not kill the president."
Okey dokey. That resonates these days. And who is Bob Lee Swagger? Well, we are informed by knowledgeable persons that he's "the deadliest sniper ever known." Also, when he was serving in Afghanistan, he held off 200 Taliban for 36 hours, on his own.
Shooter (Bravo, 10 p.m.) features Swagger (Ryan Phillippe) as its central character. It's an action/adventure/conspiracy drama that is, in truth, not so much about Swagger as it is emphatically – and fatally – about guns.
It's fast-paced and propulsive, but not exactly original. What makes it interesting is not the turning-and-twisting narrative, but the context. You know what I mean – guns, the U.S.A., guns and more guns.
The series (derived from the 2007 film about an ex-Marine sniper, starring Mark Wahlberg) was scheduled to premiere early this past summer. Then it was pushed back to late July after the shootings in Dallas and then, after the tragic shootings in Baton Rouge, it was delayed again. After establishing some sensitivity to the timing, what was the cable channel USA Network to do? Well, it just kept pushing it back and back.
And now it's here. Post-election, note you. The gist of the drama is this: Our man Swagger is a coolly efficient sniper, but a quiet family man, not anything like his surname suggests. Asked by his former commanding officer (Omar Epps) to help deal with a known, planned assassination attempt on the president, Swagger does his duty. But things go awry. Hence: "My name is Bob Lee Swagger. I did not kill the president."
What follows is a familiar stew of nervy twists for the guy on the run who must prove his innocence and dismantle the dastardly lot of which he has been made a part. Familiar ground, from 24 to Homeland.
It's the small things that resonate though and make Shooter mind-boggling. Rarely has a series of any serious intent made such an impassioned fetish of guns. There is a reverence for the phallic rifle that is near religious in its intensity. You don't need to be a scholar of subtle symbolism to discern the highly charged eroticism of guns being discharged and spent cartridges spewing.
The series takes a very odd approach in all of this. Swagger is very good at his job as a sniper, but coolly distant from this one thing he does extremely well. It is suggested he understands the fetishizing of guns and is wary of it. He sees his rifle as a tool to do this one thing well.
At the same time, as the narrative veers this way and that, guns become the core focus of everything. One suspects that the material is trying to have it both ways – a cautionary tale about assassination as a reaction to radical leaders and, simultaneously, it indulges in a kind of lascivious gun porn. This strange, muddled series will be an aphrodisiac for some viewers.
That's the reason for paying any attention. It is subtly ideological, illustrating the erogenous power of the gun in the U.S. culture. If guns frighten you, Shooter will simply terrify you.
Also airing Tuesday
Black America Since MLK: And Still I Rise (PBS, 8 p.m.) probably has more relevance now that was realized when the four-hour, two-part doc was conceived. Henry Louis Gates Jr. takes us on a deeply personal journey through the last 50 years of African-American history from the hard-fought victories of the civil-rights movement up to today, and flashpoints like the Ferguson riots following the shooting of Michael Brown. A phrase used in it, "from Straight Outta Compton to the White House," carries a new meaning these days.