CBS All Access has managed to create an anti-hero drama as unpleasant as it is dull.
Some television shows feel remarkably of the moment. They seem to reflect the zeitgeist so perfectly there is almost something supernatural about them. Others anticipate the future with a kind of clarity that borders on psychic. It can feel like a magic trick.
And then there are shows like Coyote.
Assembled from spare parts left over from previous television trends and decaying prejudices, Coyote tells the story of a retired Border Patrol agent Ben Clemens (Michael Chiklis). A real swinging dick of the “keeping those pesky immigrants out” set, he now has plenty of time. Before he can enjoy it, though, his dead partner’s wife begs him to finish a cabin near Tijuana so she can sell it and have some kind of financial stability in the wake of her husband’s death. But you know how it goes south of the border; Clemens ends up having to work for the people he used to imagine himself protecting America from. In order to keep his ex-wife Jill (Kelli Williams) and daughter safe, he becomes a thug for drug dealers and gun runners.
If you were to create Coyote in your kitchen, you’d find the ingredients in the far back of your spice racks, gathering dust. Take a heaping helping of the conflicted anti-hero a la Walter White but be sure to cut away any sort of richness or interesting complications. Remember how good Chiklis was in The Shield? Yeah, he’s got nothing remotely as interesting or layered here to work with.
Then toss in some of the empty-headed “Central and South America is nothing but crime and poverty” stereotyping that animated such “entertainment” as the latest Rambo. Think Narcos but devoid of any political or humanistic insight.
For equal balance, be sure to include such trenchant observations of American culture as, “In America, families watch different televisions in different rooms,” and “People who still love each other get divorced.” You know, the sort of thing people said about America back in the mid-80s before we all had screens in our pockets every moment of every day and the divorce rate wasn’t the lowest it has been in 50 years.
Speaking of divorce rates, be sure and make Kelli’s new husband Frank (Mark Feuerstein) a really great but not aggressively-alpha guy who ends up with horrific treatment by the plot. Oh and just for fun, make Clemens the kind of dad who, upon realizing someone is seeing his daughter angrily demands, “Are you fucking my daughter?!” because, you know, dads amirite?
Even if you are able to overlook the pile of clichés and past sell-by-date characterizations, Coyote is still unforgivably lifeless.
There are a few moments in the first two episodes that suggest creators David Graziano, Josh Gilbert, and Michael Carnes had a smarter, more emotionally resonant show buried deep in this retrograde mess. When given even the smallest bit of material, Chiklis can give Clemens a sad awkward bearing that suggests a drama about a middle-aged retiree who lost his marriage to alcoholism and his best friend to tragedy and can’t figure who or how to be in the world. But they’re just glimpses. Too fleeting and all but disappeared by the halfway point of the season.
Even if you are able to overlook the pile of cliches and past sell-by-date characterizations, Coyote is still unforgivably lifeless. The show is paced like molasses and its moments of excitement will barely raise your heart rate. There are no twists you can’t see coming miles down the road, no turns that will inspire reflection or examination. The color palette is as dull as the miles of sand the show repeatedly forces on the viewer.
With the sheer amount of television available to all of us, it boggles the mind to imagine the show inspiring commitment from any sort of audience. Everything it does I can think of 3 or 4 shows that do it better. Coyote strands good actors in a sea of bad and uninteresting decisions and asks you to care. I’d ask you to skip it instead.
Coyote swims its way onto streaming on CBS All Access this Thursday January 7th.
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