Judge Paul Corupe, Ontario Ranger, takes on Chuck Norris as he reviews this DVD box set.
Our reviews of Walker, Texas Ranger: The Complete Second Season (published March 7th, 2007), Walker, Texas Ranger: The Final Season (published November 9th, 2005), and Walker, Texas Ranger: One Riot, One Ranger (published September 9th, 2014) are also available.
"Halt, Texas Ranger!"
At the height of his stardom in the mid-1980s, Chuck Norris had built himself into one of B-moviedom's most dependable action heroes: crushing communists in Invasion U.S.A, getting revenge for Vietnam in Missing in Action, and tackling terrorists in The Delta Force. By the end of the 1990s, though, his Cannon Films-funded, Uzi-led romps through low-budget film were quickly running out of ammo. With Cannon's principals feuding and the future of the company uncertain, he was left with the prospect of finding another production company willing to take a chance on his increasingly unbankable name—not an easy task for a 53-year-old martial arts star.
Walker, Texas Ranger, then, was something of a godsend. A weekly action series starring Norris as a crime-busting Texas Ranger, cowboy hat and all, the show single-handedly reinvigorated Norris' career and solidified his reputation amongst fans both new and old. Sure, Walker, Texas Ranger was far from the most compelling or artistically accomplished show on television, but did it really matter? In an era where quick-witted police procedurals had begun to dominate the prime-time schedule, audiences couldn't get enough of watching Chuck Norris stare down sadistic criminals before forcefully driving his cowboy boots into their face. And that's just what he did, week after week, for an amazing nine seasons,
Facts of the Case
Cordell Walker (Chuck Norris, The Octagon) is the tough, roundhouse-delivering pride of the Texas Rangers, a centuries-old law enforcement agency. He serves the state along with his partner, former football player James Trivette (Clarence Gilyard, Matlock); his mutual love interest, the oft-kidnapped Assistant District Attorney Alex Cahill (Sheree J. Wilson, Dallas), and retired ranger C.D. Parker (Noble Willingham, Good Morning, Vietnam), who dispenses advice from behind the counter at C.D.'s Bar & Grill. Throughout each season, Walker comes up against a veritable army of reprehensible criminals including drug dealers, rapists, contract killers, and arms merchants. After tracking down each moustache-twirling villain, Walker metes out two-fisted (or, more likely, two-footed) justice in a decisive bare-knuckles brawl.
Walker, Texas Ranger: The Complete First Season collects all 26 hard-hitting, bone-crunching episodes from the show's landmark first season on seven shiny little discs.
With each episode often resembling a lesser Chuck Norris movie from the 1980s, only compressed down to 45 minutes, Walker, Texas Ranger may be just about as formulaic as television can possibly get, but therein lies the pulpy, underlying attraction. Even though viewers know exactly how each show will turn out even before they hit "play," Norris' action-packed series is still consistently entertaining in a "comfort TV" kind of a way, a fast-moving and simplistically plotted program that hit every expected note and hit it hard: every bad guy is as evil as they come, Walker is always a pillar of virtue (despite his penchant for drop-kicking opponents in the throat), and the show's final showdown will always put justice on top.
It should come as little surprise then that the show was executive produced by John Ashley and Frank Lupo, veterans of the previous decade's premier action/adventure show The A-Team. Ashley and Lupo obviously retained some of the broad strokes of their earlier hit when determining the direction of the show this season, but with one noticeable difference—bad guys actually died in Walker, Texas Ranger. While none of these episodes come close to matching the body count of Norris' classic B-action films of the 1980s, they are far more lethal than any show being produced at the time. Though he usually remembers to snap the cuffs on the head villain, Walker doesn't think twice about causally drawing his .357 (or even a crossbow) and taking out any henchman who looks at him the wrong way. Later complaints over the level of violence in Walker, Texas Ranger may have resulted in the series' brutality being toned down, but this season is about as ass-kickingly violent as it gets on the small screen.
Based ostensibly on Texas Ranger J.J. McQuade, the scruffy, hard-living hero of arguably Norris' best film, 1983's Lone Wolf McQuade, Cordell Walker has become the karate champion's signature role, and for good reason. Coinciding with Norris' own personal return to Christianity, McQuade's recklessness has been significantly toned down for this role, turning Walker into a highly moral man with complete faith in the justice system for which he stands. Norris is absolutely earnest in the show, bringing a blue-collar charisma to Walker built on the optimism and traditional American values, even though he dispenses what is probably the toughest form of tough love ever conceived.
Offsetting the character's basic appeal is the fact that after 30 years in show business, Chuck Norris still cannot act. Like, not at all. It was a definitely a wise move on the producer's part to pair him with Clarence Gilyard as his whiz-kid sidekick Jimmy Trivette. On one level, this allows the scriptwriters to engage in standard, buddy flick shtick—Trivette's modern detection methods versus Walker's natural instincts, Walker's physical superiority over Trivette despite his advanced age—but Gilyard's emotive style and comic touches prove the perfect foil for Norris' perpetually stone-faced Ranger and, together, they make a likable team of law enforcement officers. Wilson and screen veteran Willingham fill out the cast ably, even if they're more or less two-dimensional creations in the inaugural season. Guest stars are few and far between, but watch for Stuart Whitman, Danica McKellar, and a remarkable turn by Tobey Maguire as a juvenile delinquent in "The Prodigal Son."
Unfortunately, Paramount's presentation of Walker, Texas Ranger is only average. The included episodes are weak and pixilated, with dull colors. Since it's only a little more than a decade old, I anticipated better transfers than what I see here. The stereo 2.0 soundtrack is pretty typical for a TV show, cramped and slightly muffled. Music and dialogue come through adequately, but more dynamic sound effects, like gunfire, are rather flat. Fans of the show will also be disappointed to discover that there are no extras included in this set, not even a brief interview or introduction by Norris himself.
It's a disappointingly bare-bones, barely passable presentation for Chuck this time, but fans of Walker, Texas Ranger will want this highly enjoyably, if mindless, DVD set anyways.
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