Walker: Independence Review: CW’s Western Prequel by Jared Padalecki

In January 2021, the reboot of “Walker, Texas Ranger” (simply called “Walker”), starring Jared Padalecki and executive producing, premiered as a new hit for The CW. It may not have infiltrated pop culture quite as much as Riverdale did, but it still thrived as a family and crime drama. The show was soon renewed for a second season and is about to launch its third. Of course, in the course of that success, the series was able to go the spinoff route — making this CW fall season two-in-two for spinoffs on Padalecki-associated vehicles, since the “Supernatural” prequel “The Winchesters” is also premiering soon, and he is executive producer of Walker: Independence. But the most interesting aspect of these two spinoffs is that they specifically emphasize not telling contemporaneous or future stories of the characters, instead going back in time in prequel form.

With “Walker: Independence,” it’s hard not to view it as The CW’s attempt to attempt its own twist on what Taylor Sheridan did with his “Yellowstone” verse (with precursors in the form of “1883” and the coming ” 1923″). Where “Walker” has contemporary cowboys and Texas pride, there’s just something about seeing old-school cowboys on TV drinking whiskey, breaking both hearts and the law in the process. Even before Mark Pedowitz’s recent departure as the network’s CEO, The CW had been in an odd place leading up to Walker: Independence, with cancellations and a new schedule that signaled a shift in targeting demographics away from women and queer – friendly direction that the network has been especially known for over the years. But despite its more masculine genre, as a Western, Walker: Independence is a female-driven spin-off that retains much of the essence of many CW shows over the years. That essence is the sort of thing that’s arguably worth sticking with the show, even if it’s not the notable product that stems from the network or the genre.

Despite its prequel status, it follows the ancestors of two “Walker” characters – widow Abigail “Abby” Collins née Walker (Katherine McNamara), an ancestor of Cordell Walker (Padalecki) and his family, and troubled cowboy Hoyt Rawlins (Matt Barr). , a relative of Walker’s late best friend Hoyt Rawlins (also Barr) – Walker: Independence tells a story to be enjoyed and appreciated apart from its sibling series. Depending on what audiences are looking for in their Texas dramas on The CW, it can even be an either/or situation. Set in the late 18th century, Walker: Independence is a tale of revenge and retribution in which Boston native Abby finds and kills the man who murdered her husband, en route to her new life in ramshackle Independence, Texas. Gone is the nuclear family drama aspect of “Walker” — specifically that youthful Drama that often manages to disrupt crime drama – as the series draws on found families who come from new alliances, in a world full of enemies and people they’re never quite sure whether to trust.

It’s a tried-and-true Western concept in which the fishless newcomer to town works to defeat the black hat that has ruined her life and teams up with a ragtag crew of frontiersmen, from renegade cowboys to Americans Native Americans to local dancers who know all the town gossip. Walker: Independence definitely doesn’t reinvent the wheel or even the stagecoach in what it does. There are the briefest moments when it seems like Walker: Independence is attempting—and possibly should attempt—what shows like Reign and Dickinson (and Bridgerton) have done for their respective genres, rather than just invading territory, which many series in this genre (like the grimmer “Hell on Wheels”) have already done. Those brief moments are really just moments, though, as if the series doesn’t want to rock the boat too much. But rocking the boat would at least be unlike what’s been seen before from Westerns on TV, or at least since The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. Especially given how DC’s Legends of Tomorrow — a show that was part of The CW’s recent carnage of cancellations last season — has always managed to bring levity and something different to the genre when its group of time travelers to the times of the Old West.

Where Walker: Independence is different, however, is in its diversity, which technically applies to the era, if not the films and shows that depict that era. The Independence MP is a black man named Augustus (Philemon Chambers), aka “Gus”, a seemingly honorable man who was passed over for the sheriff’s position. The town’s Chinese washerman and chef, Kai (Lawrence Kao), knows everyone’s dirty laundry (literally) and is always there at the right moment to learn even more. Then there’s Calian, an Apache tracker who befriends Abby and forms an uneasy alliance with Hoyt. Walker: Independence definitely dances around the strain of these characters making their way through this fairly white town, but the question will arise as the series progresses as to how far she’s willing to take those tensions. Of the three characters, Calians at the top is by far the most interesting, as it’s about a character torn between two worlds, neither of which really wants him around. While Gus and Kai are part of town, even with the moments when other characters treat them as less than, Cailin is the only clear outsider. And the series relies on the underdog trio of Calian, Abby and Hoyt to drive them.

The major overlap between Walker and Walker: Independence in this series was the “return” of Matt Barr as Hoyt Rawlins. Barr had appeared in almost every era of The CW before Walker. He starred in the third season of One Tree Hill in 2006 as Peyton’s wacky stalker; a role as Keith Van Der Woodsen (presumably relative to William) in the attempted ’80s backdoor spin-off Gossip Girl Valley Girls; and appeared in one-and-dones like the cheerleading series Hellcats and the military drama Valor. As the charming bad boy Hoyt on Walker, it had seemed like Barr might have landed the right role on the network’s new hit series, only for the character to die at the end of the first season. Since Walker is a grounded CW series, it couldn’t just pull what most other shows on the network would have and bring Hoyt back to life, so Walker: Independence is pretty much the workaround. A tormented western bad boy, Barr shows his practice from over a decade and a half of CW shows, and understands the cadence and flow of those shows better than anyone on this series except for Katie Findlay, who plays Kate, a talkative dancer who more is than meets the eye. (Comparing Walker: Independence to Reign again, every time Kate steps into the frame, it’s hard not to lose faith that those characters are actually in that era. Kate feels the closest like a character from a Western version of “Reign,” which is somewhat appreciated, but not the norm of the show either.) As the lead, Katherine McNamara has the thankless role of the character whose “purity” is chopped off with each episode — the one it has to sully itself, which is rarely the character people cling to in a western. She can host the show, but it’s not fun. And given the material, it’s hard not to join in the fun of Walker Independence.

Despite its role as a prequel, Walker: Independence is arguably a better show for viewers who can get into it without knowing the source material. For Walker viewers, Walker: Independence definitely has a lot of Easter eggs — but there are so many that a closer look might just throw the original’s pedigree out of whack. Really, it’s easy to see that the Walker series got the green light, but it’s not necessary to see it through that lens. But unlike Walker, Walker: Independence’s plot isn’t encumbered by a family drama component, and that’s a good reason to give it a try. If you’re a western fan and interested in the series, Walker: Independence hits the beats of the genre without trying to do anything new. If you’re not a Western fan and interested in the series, Walker: Independence isn’t so aggressive towards the genre that it’s difficult to get by. And ultimately, if you’re a fan of The CW, Walker: Independence is fine. Much like its sibling show, it has the potential to surpass that status, but there’s no harm if it doesn’t. Because it is a higher concept, it actually has greater potential to transcend mere well-being. As the show makes clear, Independence is a city where no one is what they seem and everyone is trying to find themselves. The former may not be the case with Walker: Independence, which given the genre is pretty easy to take at face value, but the latter could be. Because the show’s connection to “Walker” probably won’t be what’s keeping it afloat.

Walker: Independence premieres Thursday, October 6 on The CW.

https://variety.com/2022/tv/reviews/walker-independence-review-cw-adequate-western-spinoff-prequel-jared-padalecki-1235393191/ Walker: Independence Review: CW’s Western Prequel by Jared Padalecki

Charles Jones

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