It would be like realizing in the operating room that your surgeon is Patrick Dempsey. Or that the attorney standing between you and death row is Andy Griffith.
Not McDreamy or Matlock, mind you, but the actors who play them.
That’s just how discombobulating it must be to see two black SUVs roll up, police lights flashing, only to have Steven Seagal climb out and arrest you.
Welcome to the world of “Steven Seagal Lawman” (10 p.m. Wednesday, A&E). Or, as it’s soon to be known around the E! offices, God’s gift to “The Soup.”
Unlike “Armed & Famous,” the CBS series that made reserve cops out of the likes of Erik Estrada purely for a TV show, the reality series “Lawman” offers a look at what it says is the one-time action star’s other career: He’s credited as Reserve Deputy Chief Steven Seagal of the Jefferson Parish (La.) Sheriff’s Office.
But the result is so surreal, so brain-crampingly bizarre, that by the time Seagal starts tutoring a fellow officer on the shooting range — “The Zen masters in Zen archery, they don’t pull the arrow, they push the arrow. And it’s the same with that pistol,” he says, as instructors nod along as though they have the slightest clue what he’s talking about — it’s not too big of a leap to think all this just might be an elaborate, Andy Kaufman-esque stunt.
On the other hand, I’ve seen Seagal act. He’s not that convincing.
While he says he’s spent nearly 20 years as a real-life cop, watching Seagal patrol the streets in “Lawman,” you can’t help but get the feeling that he spent most of those years as a reserve deputy the same way Elvis was an honorary DEA agent.
Oh, he’s always trying to help, whether it’s working his way to the center of the action, and the cameras, whenever multiple units respond to a crime or offering navigation tips during a tense high-speed pursuit until his partner eventually pleads, “Steven, let me drive.”
Despite his enthusiasm, though, there are certain things Seagal won’t do. Run. Jump. Crawl. Climb. Rush. Dash. Hustle. Hurry. Scurry. Scamper. Skedaddle.
If there’s an SUV that stays mobile while other officers chase a suspect on foot, rest assured, Seagal will be in that SUV.
Although, to be fair, he does manage to step over a fence that appears to be about waist high.
It’s an alarming lack of action for someone so well-versed in the martial arts. “By the time I’d become a police officer,” Seagal says, “I’d already been studying the martial arts most of my life.”
To reinforce that point, he goes on to add:
• “The martial art that I practice is called aikido.”
• “I’m one of the highest-ranking aikido teachers in the world.”
• “As a lifelong practitioner of the martial arts …”
• “Being a lifelong practitioner of the martial arts …”
• “I’ve studied the martial arts most of my life …”
• “Those of us who’ve studied the martial arts as long as I have …”
• and “I’ve been doing the martial arts for over 40 years.”
I kept waiting for him to reveal that he was schooled in the martial arts by an artist named Marshall and a U.S. Marshal named Art.
But all that training seems superfluous, given that “Lawman” makes Seagal out to be some sort of superhero with the uncanny ability to spot crimes before they happen. Call them his Steven Senses, and when they start tingling, his SeagalVision kicks in.
“When the world is speeding by for others, I see things for what they are,” he explains. “A cock of the head, a foot planted forward or back, a flick of the wrist — they all tell me something. Whether somebody’s gonna fight, pull a gun or run.”
At the risk of having “Lawman” collapse under the weight of its own goofiness, producers simulate this superpower, signaled by an exaggerated stare from Seagal, with a burst of white light, a camera zoom, slow motion effects and, for some reason, the muffled sound of a heartbeat.
But why stop there? Where’s the X-ray vision? Were the adamantium claws too expensive? Surely he must be able to summon marine life at will.
No matter how awkwardly he’s presented, though, Seagal somehow retains his inexplicable charisma, and he remains an imposing figure.
I’m still convinced he could kill me with his bare hands in any number of ways, from the exotic to the mundane.
But first, he’d have to catch me.
Christopher Lawrence’s Life on the Couch column appears on Sundays. E-mail him at clawrence@ reviewjournal.com.ELSEWHERE
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