Steven Seagal is Back in 'Lawman', but Probably Not for Long

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image via A&E

I’m going to veer from the regular science/tech programming here for a moment and discuss something a bit less complex: Steven Seagal.

For a few years during college, a group of friends and I studied aikido, a martial art few Americans, including us, knew anything about until Steven Seagal came along.  His debut movie, “Above the Law”, was an injection of adrenaline for an action film industry sluggish from two decades of chronically bad Chuck Norris movies and a debilitating dose of uncannily horrible Jean-Claude Van Damme flicks. 

Seagal, all scowling six-foot five of him, was different. He wasn’t just another karate retread, or an actor (loosely speaking) who learned a few slick moves for the screen (like Jean-Claude). This was a guy known as a badass long before he started fracturing forearms on film–a 7th dan blackbelt, in fact, who studied for years under aikido legend, Koichi Tohei.

Seagal was discovered by a Hollywood producer while teaching aikido in Los Angeles. “Above the Law” was his big break, and it was largely a surprising success. While the focus was on Seagal slamming people through walls and dislocating shoulders, the movie actually received decent reviews like, you know, a real movie. This was promising indeed. An action star who could act? Unprecedented.

That was 21 years ago. Seagal never again really measured up to his first movie, though not for lack of trying. He worked and reworked the same basic formula over and over, his scowl grew grimmer and grimmer, and eventually he morphed into a bland caricature of himself.  Before long, even his hard-core fan base drifted away. The Seagal brand became synonymous with schlock. 

I recall the moment I finally had to “let go” of Seagal.  It was 1994. After sitting through “On Deadly Ground”, in which Seagal played some sort of EPA/Special Forces hybrid agent opposite Michael Caine as a corrupt, hot cherry lipstick-wearing industrialist–and managing to even make it through Seagal’s silly soliloquy about the oil industry–I said to myself, “enough.”  The badness, it burned, and I determined not to be burned again.

Seagal’s filmography since then reads like a wrap sheet of bungled attempts to regain a glimmer of magic two decades old.  No one has heard much from him for the last several years, and no one has really noticed. So who knew that all this time he was reinventing himself as a deputy sheriff in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana? 

“That’s right: Steven Seagal, deputy sheriff,” says the man himself with a Jersey crusted cajun accent at the start of his new reality show, “Lawman” on A&E.

I temporarily revoked my no-Seagal rule to watch an episode of the show, if for no other reason than to honor the guy’s tenacity.  I can’t say that anything about it surprised me.  He spends roughly half the show teaching other officers ways to disarm villains, and half riding around looking for bad guys.  When he finds some, he saunters around the crime scene with one hand on his sidearm, stopping here and there to bark out one-liners like, “Yo, you dealin’ roun’ here homie?”  Imagine “Cops” with Steven Seagal in it, and there you go. 

My only observation worth mentioning is that despite 20 some years of unintentional comedy, Seagal’s ego hasn’t shrunk one bit.  He lords over the other cops on the show like a bullying older brother who enjoys trying out arm holds on his siblings. Though the show’s premise is that Seagal is part of a unit–a partner to his fellow officers–he seems like an over-curious celebrity guest. Nothing about the role is convincing, and Seagal comes off as less likable than most of the people he’s arresting.

“Tap if you need me to stop,” he tells one guy as he’s cutting off his air supply.

Steve, sorry dude–I’m tapping.

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