“I, Cordell Walker, do solemnly swear…”
No, this is not the next spin-off of the zombie Walking Dead franchise. There’s a new ranger in town, and his name is Cordell Walker. I know what you’re thinking: “Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.” That’s where you’d be wrong. They might share the same name and job, but this Walker is nothing like the Chuck Norris version that lasted for over a decade when you include made-for-television movies. This Walker is much younger. He was a Marine who had joined after 9/11. He has a family. His wife was killed a year ago, and now he’s trying to raise his son and daughter with the help of his parents, who were no longer living in the Norris series. The episodes are more of an ongoing story arc, which conforms to pretty much most dramas on television today. While there were certainly elements that ran through the original show, it was pretty much a bad-guy-of-the -eek setup. If you haven’t caught any of the new show, now is your chance. CBS Home Entertainment has released the entire first season on DVD, and just in time for the holidays. You get all 18 episodes on five discs with a couple of brief features.
Cordell Walker (Padalecki) is a Texas Ranger. A year ago his wife was murdered, and he was left with their two children and a lot of unanswered questions. When he couldn’t cope, he took on a long undercover operation that left his son August (Culley) and daughter Stella (Brinson) with his mother Abeline (Hagan) and father Bonham (Pileggi) and pretty much went underground for nearly a year. Now he’s back, and he’s finding that things have changed while he was gone. His old partner Larry James (Bell) is now the new unit Captain and his new boss. His brother Liam (Allen) has been his children’s father figure, and he’s partnered up with Micki Ramirez, played by Lindsey Morgan. She’s a newly-minted Ranger, having met him the night before when he was drunk and at the spot where his wife was killed. Someone was arrested for the murder, but he is sure that wasn’t the guy who did it and pushes his view to the point where he’s pretty much annoyed his own support group. So he takes up his job again and starts to make an effort to be there for his family. It’s going to be a rocky road, but we have 18 episodes to make some progress here.
There are plenty of flashbacks to his days with his wife, and she also appears to be haunting him and he’s carrying on conversations with her. Where the heck is Sam Winchester when you need him? Oh, right. He’s getting himself in trouble by not letting go. But it turns out over the season that he was right. As the season goes on, he learns more and more about what happened the night Emily was killed. The good news is that you will get a full answer by the end of the season. They are not going to drag this out for several seasons. I find that a refreshing and brave path. These long missions for a specific answer never really avoid getting old. The Mentalist and Simon Baker’s pursuit of Red John is a big example of how annoying that can get. There’s also insurance against pissing off fans should the season suddenly get the ax before the mystery is solved. It’s a bit easy on actor Jared Padalecki, because his dead wife is played by his real wife, Genevieve Padalecki, who also guest starred on his Supernatural series run.
Another season-long story arc also gets resolved before the season ends. We learn more about the undercover character he created while grieving for his wife. That life comes back to haunt him when his son discovers his old undercover box and the cell phone he used. When he activates the phone, his old life reaches out to Walker and draws him back in for a conflict that doesn’t end until a huge blowout at the ranch of his parents and bloodshed. Stella ends up unknowingly falling for the son of the leader of the ring Walker put away during his undercover job. A pretty good arc, and again smartly played out and resolved over the course of a single year.
Lindsey Morgan has great chemistry with Padalecki and they pretty much bond off the jump. She’s playing the first Mexican woman to become a ranger and feels that to be a weight at times on her shoulders. She gets to deal with some family drama when a reveal is made about her mother and aunt. And the two of these play off well with Coby Bell as their boss and Walker’s ex-partner. The chemistry here is quick and compelling.
It’s always a joy to see Mitch Pileggi in any role. I’ve loved him since his days on The X-Files and beyond. He’s a dynamic actor who doesn’t often get credit for his ability because of the type of shows he often appears in. I’m glad to see him get a part with so much meat in it. Walker’s dad is a very complicated man. He’s a fierce-patriarch kind of personality who will defend his family to his last breath. His relationship with Walker’s mother has been strained by an affair she was having for years. He’s also been hiding from his family that he has cancer. The original Walker didn’t have a living father. The character of CD, played by Noble Willingham, pretty much served as the father figure to the Norris version of the character. I really love this Pileggi character and hope he gets to ride it for a good many years.
Cordell’s brother Liam is played by Keegan Allen, previously known mostly for his role in Pretty Little Liars. Fortunately, I didn’t have any flashbacks to that series. He’s playing an assistant district attorney who ends up drawn into Walker’s problems. When he decides to run for District Attorney following the resignation of a corrupt boss, he ends up going against the root of that corruption and going back to the death of Emily. It’s a better character for him as well, so it looks like plenty of room for growth for several good actors.
Once you get used to the fact that while they let you know in the credits it’s based on Walker: Texas Ranger, it’s really not. These characters and situations could not be more unalike. Norris had this force of personality that overcame his obvious shortcomings as an actor. Padalecki has a little of both for a more balanced character. But his past really works against him. At least it does for me. Sam Winchester was an iconic character that lasted over 15 years. We basically got to watch the actor grow up in that show, and it makes it hard not to see Sam sometimes when you’re looking at Walker. Not his fault, really, but it is certainly an issue for me. This was his dream job, and apparently he’s been pushing to revive this franchise and play Walker for years. He’s one of the showrunners and creators of the show responsible for most of the show’s development from before it started. Hats off to him, and I look forward to the day when I only see Cordell Walker and no longer Sam Winchester. He’s a fine enough actor that I believe, given enough time, that day will come. The show makes a point of separating it from the original series with a slight modification of the title. “Just Walker is fine.”