In the feature-length series premiere of Walker, Texas Ranger, Ranger Cordell Walker (Chuck Norris) hunts down a dangerous criminal who is planning a big job by doing a series of dry runs in Fort Worth. In a bank robbery, Walker’s partner is shot down. He takes on a new partner in the form of rookie ranger Jimmy Trivette (Clarence Gilyard). Together the two set out to discover who is behind the murders, get justice, and thwart their evil plans.
Review (Some Spoilers Follow):
You get all the high-powered action you’d expect from Walker, Texas Ranger, with a lot of big action scenes and even an explosion thrown in for good measure.
The villain is menacing, with a combination of ruthlessness, a CIA background, and a disregard for human life. But he’s also a bit cartoonish and so is his plan. If he has a CIA background, it seems that he should be able to gather intelligence to find the right partners for his big heist, rather than using a series of smaller heists as trial runs that will draw the attention of the police and the Texas Rangers.
Despite the flaw in the villain’s plan, the case is still interesting, as there are a lot of details teased out over the course of the episode, and Walker and Trivette have to figure out the villain’s endgame.
Beyond the main plot, One Riot, One Ranger serves as an introduction to the series’ cast of characters. We get back story exposition from both Walker and Trivette. While not an ideal way to introduce characters, it’s at least done in a way that’s natural, and I think it was actually pretty effectively weaved in, as Walker shared his own trauma to comfort a young lady who’d also been a victim. We get far less time with prosecutor Alex Cahill (Sharee Wilson), but a good performance and well-selected scenes capture the combination of compassion and a passion for justice that are so key to her character. The series also introduces ex-Ranger and barkeeper C.D. Parker (Gailard Sartain) in the pilot episode, who serves as a mentor to both rangers.
Walker’s partner leaves no impression at all in the scenes he’s in before being killed. His inclusion seems like an unnecessary and pointless trip to the cliche-o-matic. Even in the 1990s, if you’re going to make “They killed his partner” part of your hero’s motivation, you have to make some effort to sell the audience on it, either by getting the audience to care about the dead partner, or by showing how deeply it affected the hero. None of that happens here.
While I thought Walker’s character worked well for the most part, the writers had him intentionally mispronouncing Trivette’s last time for the entire episode. Really, I can’t think of any non-illegal behavior that’s more insufferable than that. It’s a weak joke that could have sabotaged the show if other factors weren’t in its favor.
Even in the pre-9/11 days, it’s hard to believe it would be as easy to drop off a bomb at the Texas Rangers’ headquarters as is portrayed in the episode.
Also, while I thought Galiard Sartain did a decent job, I did find myself longing for the late Noble Willingham, who would play C.D. in the main series.
In some quarters, the original Walker, Texas Ranger is a bit of a joke, and you can see hints of why in this episode. But I think you also see why it remained a ratings hit for most of its eight-year run.
It’s a fun show to watch, the action is good and the characters are likable, even if they have some rough edges. Walker himself is perhaps the most prickly. He’s tough, relentless, and very gruff. Yet, at the end of the day, he lets a rape victim take sanctuary at his ranch in the midst of big investigations, and agrees to a dangerous rodeo stunt, one which landed him in the hospital the last time he tried it, in order to help out orphans.
While some may view the show as corny, the series really seems to be quite earnest. In particularly, Trivette’s story of his own origins, growing up as a fan of The Lone Ranger, reflects the sort of heroic tradition that the series puts its protagonists in. It was a very intentionally a throwback even in 1993.
Fundamentally, viewers approved and liked hanging out with these characters in between the big fight scenes.
The pilot has some weak spots that the series would improve on a little. It’s still a fun way to spend ninety minutes for anyone curious as to how a cultural phenomena like Walker, Texas Ranger began.
Rating 3.25 out of 5
The full episode is available for free on YouTube.