Recap: Jared Padalecki, Texas Ranger, patrols a weird TV version of Austin in 'Walker' reboot
Now, what I look for in a television show is not usually the same sensation as a Benadryl dream where a long-forgotten 1990s action show, a local heartthrob and scenes shot near my office bleed into a melodramatic melange. But I'm open to the experience, and you might be, too.
The first episode of the the CW's "Walker" premiered Thursday, starring Austinite and erstwhile "Supernatural" lead Jared Padalecki. (Not for nothing, it broke ratings records for the network.) Both familiar and hallucinatory to an local, it's a reboot of the 1993-2001 CBS procedural "Walker, Texas Ranger," which starred Chuck Norris when he was better known for cowboy hats and karate kicks than for that "Chuck Norris facts" calendar on your coworker's desk.
The reboot — or reimagining, as Padalecki, who's also an executive producer, has characterized it — punts most of the Norris version's trappings into the sun (the ultimate lone star). The original theme song, a masterpiece of law enforcement paranoia/propaganda and also an utter bop? No more.
The supporting cast, including Walker's trusted ranger partner Trivette and love interest/assistant district attorney Alex Cahill? Written out of existence and replaced by a new rookie partner, a bartender serving sexual tension and an entire brood of Walker family members.
The Dallas-Fort Worth setting? For our purposes, the most significant jettison of the reboot, since "Walker" is set in Austin. The production, helped along by city-approved incentives, actually filmed in the Texas capital, including at Austin Studios, unlike a certain other network drama about first responders set in these here parts that we could mention.
And Padalecki, who just wrapped an impressive 15-season run hunting demons on the CW, is Cordell Walker in name and boots only. Norris' take on the character was one-third martial arts master, one-third shaman, one-third long arm of the law. Padalecki's Walker is a cocky loose cannon and haunted pater familias. (His arms are definitely long, though.) My man also got a haircut; RIP to the Sam Winchester locks.
Spoilers for the premiere follow, pardner.
We meet Walker 2.0 right as he's meeting up with his wife, Emily (played by IRL wife Genevieve Padalecki). She's about to go do some humanitarian work in the desert, and he's on the way to family game night, giving off powerful "emotionally constipated dad of whom little's been asked" energy. (Men, go to therapy, it's great.)
While playing a game with his family but looking like he needs Liam Neeson to rescue him, Walker gets an S.O.S. text from Emily. She's running through the desert, pursued by gunmen. They kill her; Walker's call comes too late. He contacts Darth Vader via seance, lets out a guttural "NOOOOO!" scream (4 out of 5 stars; could have used more reverb) and sinks to the ground.
Flash forward! Eleven months later, Walker's returning home from some bad-guy hunting, and his new partner is a bottle of booze. His kids Stella (16, angsty, played by Violet Brinson) and August (14, responsible, wearing Padalecki's "Gilmore Girls"-era haircut, played by Kale Culley) have been left in the care of Walker's younger brother, Liam (played by Keegan Allen). Liam is "the most well-groomed assistant D.A. in Austin," which is good for him and bad for any viewers wondering why they replaced the original show's girlfriend assistant D.A. with a brother assistant D.A. and then immediately had the two characters wrestle.
Walker, who if you'll recall appears to have actual panic attacks at the prospect of playing a board game with the two children he fathered, hasn't been in touch with the family for almost a year. He misses his own homecoming, opting instead to sit in the bed of his truck, spend quality time with straight liquor and have visions of his dead wife that look like they were filmed through a Glamour Shots filter. We also get our first "Hey! I know that!" moment, when we're told Cordell and Emily's place is out on Lady Bird Lake.
Walker is picked up and taken home by Micki Ramirez, a state trooper who honestly is god-level patient with this drunk white man sitting on his car in the middle of nowhere and acting like he's not afraid of anything. (Because ... men like that usually aren't. Upside-down smiley face emoji goes here.)
Reunions are had, scenes change. Then, we get the real goods: Austin stuff, baby! A White Denim song, an establishing shot of the skyline, the Capitol. The Walker home's interior, we see, looks like that Airbnb you stayed at in Driftwood after your college friend's wedding, so points for accuracy there. And, most exciting to me, Walker drives past the Yeti flagship store at Congress Avenue and Barton Springs Road, which means that he also drove past the American-Statesman newsroom. Did I actually see the newsroom? No, but fortunately for your trusty newspaper goon, a career in legacy media has inured me to being forgotten.
We (you, me, Walker) learn that Ramirez is joining the Texas Rangers, and she's our hero's new partner. There aren't a lot of Mexican American rangers, she says, and her mom doesn't approve — mom has a point, given the agency's history as a force of racist violence in the state, including against people of Mexican descent.
Ramirez and Walker get to know each other over a food truck meal on South Congress — hello Maya, hello Lucy In Disguise — before Walker is called to bail Stella out of jail. She's gotten into some trouble with a friend whom she seems especially close to (I imagine this will become a plot thread). Your sense of cognitive dissonance also gets into trouble trying to make sense of the faux Austin Police Department used in the show.
More Austin landmarks: the Paramount and Stateside theaters! Walker goes to a honky tonk and flirts/talks about death/two-steps with bartender Geri (played by Odette Annable). Forming a psychosexual trauma bond with a service industry worker will have to wait for this swaggering law enforcement officer, though. He's called off to investigate a sinister truck tied to a charitable organization that sells religious figurines. A man who works in the stock room, when questioned by Walker and Ramirez, talks smack about the late Emily. Walker — a loose cannon, if you'll recall — goes a little berserk before he's restrained by Ramirez.
Fun fact about this scene: one snatch of dialogue mentions the truck going "southbound on 84." U.S. 84, which does cut across Texas, is an east-west highway! But points for trying; no way "9-1-1 Lone Star" would have even used a real highway.
Austin landmark check: the “Rhapsody” mural by John Yancey at Waller and 12th streets! Stella's not in school; Walker tracks her down. He makes a stop at the home of her friend, and finds out the friend's parents are undocumented. He intimates that he's going to try to expedite their papers. He recounts the conversation with Ramirez later, who says her mother's stance on Ramirez's law enforcement career is essentially, "Who does the law protect? Not us."
Threads are tied. Stella's found at the Walkers' favorite gazebo, where our hero drank until he saw visions of his late wife earlier. Those religious figurines — would you believe they dissolve in water and reveal heroin inside, and that the charitable organization is a front for a drug cartel? Reader, I could believe.
It seems the cartel will come back to bite us. Emily's body was found with a poker chip, which Walker now flips back and forth in his fingers like he's Leonardo DiCaprio with a top in "Inception," another classic of the dead wife genre.
Walker's offered a task force assignment on the border, ostensibly to suss out this cartel. The family's not jazzed about that, and Walker decides not to take it, finally learning that maybe family ... is the most important thing of all. "Now's all we got," he says.
We've also got next week. The second episode of "Walker" airs at 7 p.m. on Thursday on the CW. See you then, highly fictionalized version of Austin.