What are you looking at?

What are you looking at?

The veteran cop – steely eyed and self-possessed – ruminates about the skills that make him a successful law enforcer: “When the world is speeding by for others, I see things for what they are. A cock of the head, a foot planted forward or back, a flick of the wrist — they all tell me something.” Although the “veteran” sounds every bit like the Bobby Goren character played by Vincent D’Onofrio on Law and Order: Criminal Intent, or one of the profiling team on Criminal Minds, the voice of “experience” actually belongs to once-upon-a-time box office draw Steven Seagal, who stars in a new “reality series” (a program that even stretches the credible limits of that worn-out phrase) on the A&E television network, an eyebrow-raising homage to Aging Action Stars of a Certain Age entitled, and not without irony, “Steven Seagal: Lawman.”

The program’s premise (and barely believable hook) is that, for the past 20 years, Steven Seagal action star has also been Steven Seagal police officer, working, according to press info, on “major cases” (another phrase more worthy of Law and Order:CI) in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. Producers say this is legit. Really. The show’s claim is that Seagal sported his shield for two decades “under most people’s radar.” But now, audiences can “ride shotgun” with Seagal and a “hand-selected elite team of deputies” while they patrol the parish’s streets. The producers claim that the actor’s law enforcement affiliation with the sheriff’s office began when Seagal was in the area shooting a movie. Seagal says that the then-Sheriff, Harry Lee, asked him to instruct officers in martial arts. In one episode of “Lawman,” Seagal reminisces that Lee “was so pleased with what I was doing he asked me to come onto the force and be one of his cops.” Uh huh.

While Seagal relates his early days “on the job,” viewers are treated to a black-and-white photo of the actor, his right hand raised at what appears to be a swearing-in ceremony, giving the impression the picture was snapped when he first became a cop. A closer examination reveals the picture was taken 20 years and at least as many pounds later. Seagal claims to have attended the police academy in Los Angeles, and that he possesses a certificate from Peace Officer Standards & Training (POST), a police-accreditation organization. Officials with POST in Louisiana and California say they have no record of Seagal’s certification. Although promotional materials for the program describe Seagal as a “fully commissioned deputy,” and during the show Seagal introduces himself as a “deputy sheriff,” in reality he’s a member of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Department reserve officer program, which has around 200 volunteers. And Seagal’s “rank” of “Deputy Chief” is purely honorary.

In a typical scene in a typical episode, Seagal and his “partner,” Colonel John Fortunato, patrol the mostly quiet streets of the parish (this clearly isn’t South Central L.A. or New York’s Hell’s Kitchen) “These are the ‘jects. You know, the projects,” Seagal says, all the while pointing out suspicious examples of head cocking, feet planting and wrist flicking taking place around him. Moments later, following a police radio report of a carjacking, Seagal yells and slaps the vehicle’s passenger side, shouting encouragement at Colonel Fortunato, the driver. “Get him, Johnny! Get ’em!” While Fortunato opens up the SUV’s engine, Seagal shouts out road directions. “To the right,” he yells. Fortunato is apparently not a fan of back-seat driving. “Steven, just let me drive,” Fortunato says, grimacing. “Just telling you where the holes are,” Seagal offers limply.

Arriving on the scene, Seagal and his “team” find the suspect already apprehended. Seagal asks, “Where he at? Where he at?,” demonstrating either lousy grammar or a good grasp of the lingo on the street. An officer yells for a Taser, and there’s the unmistakable sound of a ‘zap’. Seagal arrives and restores order. “Everybody calm down,” he offers heroically. Later, Seagal deals with an assortment of situations that would have probably ended up on the cutting room floor if they’d been filmed for “COPS:” a drunk bothering women at a local watering hole; two suspected drunks who are really sober; a man who takes off running and tosses away a gun; another runner who’s a felon; and a parking lot row. Yawn.

One exciting moment occurs when a perp in handcuffs kicks the rear window of a patrol car out and is subsequently shocked with a Taser (the seemingly preferred hardware of choice for Jeff Parish’s “elite”). A press release for the program says Seagal “regularly” goes out on patrols. Forunato, the department’s public relations officer, says that through the years, Seagal has donned his uniform “whenever it was convenient for his schedule.” That comes out to a couple of times a year for one or two weeks at a time. And the “elite,” hand-picked team of deputies that backs Seagal up? Three of the four officers work for Fortunato in the public relations office. No offense, but how often do “elite” tactical situations crop up during press briefings? Says Fortunato: “We decided we would pick and choose people who were seasoned law enforcement officers as opposed to some rookie.” And then, staving off any potential challenge to this “reality’s” reality, he adds, “This is for real.” For real.

– Boomer