This article previously appeared on Crossfader.
In this Crossfader series, our intricate and complex rating system will tell you definitively whether new television pilots are worth your valuable time. We call it: HIT OR SH**.
Between CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND and RIVERDALE, the CW houses two of the stealthiest sleeper hits in recent memory. Both shows drastically exceeded my expectations for CW as a network, as well as my expectations for musical dramedies and shows about ‘50s comic strip characters, respectively. I assumed VALOR would be CW flipping the military drama on its head, and I suppose this pilot could be considered an attempt at doing that. The adventurous moments come few and far between, however, and those moments tend to cause confusion anyway.
VALOR’s first scene throws us right into the thick of it with a covert ops mission gone awry in Somalia, helicopter pilots Nora Madani (Christina Ochoa) and Leland Gallo (Matt Barr) the only ones who end up making it out. Our protagonists also happen upon evidence of a government conspiracy involving soldiers falsely reported dead, so they lie during their debriefings to protect themselves. This could develop into a messy but meaningful show about corruption and military power structures, but VALOR often gets distracted by its terrorist POW subplot.
What a complex and interesting villain!
We get more than a few minutes of time devoted to two noble American warriors being held captive by the military’s current favorite target, the Scary Brown Man. This boring racist archetype has so far only revealed that he hates music, loves torturing, and wears shiny robes, so I’m guessing we’re not gonna be rooting for him at any point. Efforts are made at some semblance of commentary through Nora’s battle with institutional sexism as one of the first female combat pilots, but that doesn’t fix any of the show’s other problems.
It’s pretty clear that VALOR won’t work as a creatively risky show, but due to what seems like budget constraints and choppy editing, it won’t work as a standard military drama either. The unit of focus in this case is a covert ops team, so I expected high-tech spy sequences full of snapped necks and pithy one-liners. What we’re given slowly over the course of the episode is one gunfight and a helicopter crash. This attempt at high-tension action fails to generate any excitement, partially because the field mission gets treated like a flashback and gets broken into shorter sequences throughout the pilot. Firefights lose impact when intercut with discussions of government conspiracy and how scary these brown people are.
At no point do the terrorists do anything that would identify them as Somalian. It’s like African nations are interchangeable to us or something!
Part of me wants to give this Shit Probation, because it reminds me of THE 100. That show bounced back from its abysmal pilot by avoiding the typical “teens put aside differences to survive against savages” plotline and instead delved into the darkest impulses of nearly every character, making us question who among them really deserves to survive. So maybe VALOR will bust some crazy moves later in the season that shakes the other military dramas to their core, but based on this pilot, we’re in for another season of The Military Saves Us From Brown People.
VALOR airs on The CW on Mondays