The CW's Walker Reboot Brings a Flawed Hero, a Fast-Paced Story, and a Terrific Cast

Tonight will see the return of Cordell Walker to the small screen, as Walker -- the Jared Padalecki-fronted reinvention of the '90s TV staple Walker, Texas Ranger. The original was a big hit on broadcast TV, but has never had a significant following on home video or streaming, meaning that most people remember it more as a hazy idea or an idealized version of itself, than actually remember the nuts and bolts of the show. Those people might find the new Walker a comforting watch, as it brushes up against familiar elements of the Chuck Norris series without being a true remake.

The series centers on Walker as a single father, mourning the loss of his wife. After seeing her run off the road by unseen figures, you might make some connections to Hulu's terrific revival of The Hardy Boys, and that's actually a pretty fair comparison.

Cordell becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to his wife, while his kids have to deal with the loss of their mother as well as an absentee father obsessed with work and drowning in self-pity.

That last bit might be the biggest stretch for Jared Padalecki, who has a likable, warm-humored personality onscreen for most of his roles. While much of the original Walker was in the vein of Kung-Fu, with Norris's character essentially a lone figure without strong ties to a large supporting cast, this show is not that. And that makes it harder to watch Walker let his grief and anger impact the relationships he has with his kids and his parents.

The cast here is stellar: Mitch Pileggi (The X-Files) as Cordell's dad and Molly Hagan (iZombie) as his mom head up a family that also includes Keegan Allen and Violet Brinson as Walker's kids and Kale Culley as his brother. Allen, in particular, deserves a lot of credit for his performance in the pilot. He was a standout in a talented cast, delivering a nuanced performance that makes you want to see more of him, even in a show that's pretty crowded. His relationship with Cordell is one of the things that looks to make the decision to go in a "family drama" direction with Walker a solid one.

Also appearing in the series are The CW regulars Lindsey Morgan (The 100) and Odette Annable (Supergirl). Morgan, introduced early on in the episode, plays a by-the-book cop who becomes a Ranger and finds herself trying to wrangle Walker, her new partner. Coby Bell plays an old friend and peer of Walker's who is now his boss, setting up some workplace tension. The upside is that Bell's character, who could have been cartoonishly unlikable in another version of this show, simply seems to be the grown-up in the room a lot of the time, since he clearly wants what's best not just for the Rangers but for Walker as well...even if it isn't what Cordell wants to hear all the time.

There is a lot of story packed into the first episode, meaning that it might be a bit of a blur as you watch it, but you'll get the important stuff. The episode is well-paced, blowing through big parts of expository plot but lingering on character development and the few action sequences, which themselves are pretty solid.

It also has the potential to examine the hero archetype that was presented uncritically in the original version. Padalecki's Walker has a moral code, but is not presented as perfect -- far from it. He makes bad choices, he's called on the carpet, and it isn't treated like the people calling him out are unreasonable or high strung. We see a man struggling to be a better father and a better Ranger, but who seems to have been coasting on natural talent and charisma for too long, and now has to put in the work. And that's probably a good kind of hero to examine right now, especially when your show is about law enforcement.

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Overall, the first episode is well-done, with likable characters and a much smarter approach to the material than many fans might have expected. You can catch it tonight on The CW, at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Rating: 4/5