You watch Shooter for two things: lots of shooting, and lots of Ryan Phillippe. Based on the bestselling thrillers by Stephen Hunter, Shooter won the trust of many viewers over the course of its first season for the precision and accuracy of its action scenes: Producer-writer John Hlavin knew he had to reproduce the fidelity to firearms Hunter displays in the novels, and the show is all the better for that. It’s also important that Phillippe is a convincing hero: His Bob Lee Swagger — aka the Nailer — is sufficiently tough-guy to pull off the gun handling, but also radiates the proper intelligence Swagger must possess to be such a shrewd hunter of humans.
If you’re keeping score, the first season more or less adapted the first Swagger novel, Point of Impact, and the new second season, premiering Tuesday on USA, skips the second book to adapt the third, Time to Hunt. The new episodes feature the return of Swagger’s archenemy, the Chechen sniper Solotov (Josh Stewart), who’s still mysterious (what’s his motive?) and still dangerous (“He’s hunting Marines!”). New this season to Swagger’s inner circle of close-Marine-buddies are Todd Lowe (True Blood; Zach in Gilmore Girls) and Entourage’s Jerry Ferrera (Turtle is awfully sleek these days).
The show does what it can to make Swagger’s wife, played well by Shantel VanSanten, more than just a vulnerable dependent upon Bob Lee’s skills — but basically, everyone around Swagger ends up in awe of him and taking cover behind him. The show’s regular flashbacks to the Nailer’s time in Afghanistan slow the pace and seem rather war-movie generic. The show is much better when we’re in contemporary times, such as the season premiere’s deftly choreographed shootout in a Frankfurt, Germany, ballroom.
Breaking news: Phillippe recently broke his leg in an accident that occurred during a family trip (not on the Shooter set). Production on the latter half of the season may have a delay — the show was shooting its ninth episode of a 10-episode season — but from what I’ve seen, the first half of the new season is done and dandy.
Shooter airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on USA network.