Walker, Texas Ranger was a very specific show with a very specific audience from a very specific time. Its lead, Chuck Norris, is a very specific man. Imbued in all of this was an often cheesy, overriding sense of machismo — ass-kicking and bad guy-busting in the name of protecting the good ol’ US of A. It was very much a series of its era and home network, CBS. The CW’s take is absolutely nothing like that. In fact, there is nary a similarity at all to its predecessor, save the name Cordell Walker, and the fact that he is indeed a Texas Ranger. In short, The CW’s Walker is the complete antithesis of everything the older version was, which itself wasn’t particularly good. Alas, that doesn’t mean what we get is much better.Gone is the ass-kicking Cordell Walker fans of the old series are used to; in his place is a tired, possibly alcoholic widower who — we are told but only once is it allegedly really seen — plays by his own rules. In place of Norris’ cheeseball “badass” is the much softer, more subdued Supernatural star Jared Padalecki. This is clearly the reason the series was made: to keep one of its bread-and-butter attractions on the network and happily employed. (The show even shoots in the actor’s hometown of Austin, Texas). But not even the charm of Padalecki can liven up this one-trick pony.The show, its showrunner Anna Fricke posited during a recent Television Critics Association panel, is about the entire Walker family. The Ranger’s new partner, Micki Ramirez (played by The 100’s Lindsey Morgan), also plays a fairly large role in Walker’s life. Now that he’s returned home from an undercover assignment after two years away — seemingly immediately following the death of his wife — there’s a lot of tension with his kids and the rest of his family who stepped in to fill the void while he was gone. Ramirez, too, has a lot riding on her new partner and his ability to follow orders and not ruin her chances in an extremely white, male-dominated profession. And guess what? He’s not handling any of it well. Unfortunately, he’s also not handling it in a particularly interesting or edifying manner, either.The inclusion of these new parts doesn’t really add much interest to what plays out, in the end: a bunch of inconsequential, family drama filler. Problems are not really problems, and the exposition we get from these moments lands with a thud. The more procedural case of the week is little more than set-up for an ominous drug cartel and a tiny, not particularly impressive fight.
It’s hard to see a world wherein this show gets interesting, based on the pilot alone. The seeds planted feel generic, and the more timely elements — like the situation at the border — not particularly well-engaged. Pilots are, by their very nature, incredibly hard to pull off well: a lot of establishing information has to be given to the audience while also introducing the plot in a way that invites continued investment. But after watching the Walker pilot, it’s hard to want to watch another episode, let alone a full season (which The CW has already ordered). The whole thing leaves one wondering: what was the reason this new version was so necessary right now?