Just when you thought a TV season defined by Amy Fisher movies and "Dateline NBC" couldn't get any worse, along comes Chuck Norris in "Walker, Texas Ranger," at 9 tonight on WBAL (Channel 11).
At first, this new CBS series about a mod- ern-day Texas Ranger seems as if might be camp the way the "Batman" series of the 1960s was. In part, that's because of the way Norris makes his entrance as Ranger Cordell Walker, standing in the doorway of a cantina in Mexico.
When the scene opens, it's not clear that it's the great Chuck Norris standing there. All the camera shows us is his boots. Then, it slowly pans up the legs (stop) to the hips (stop) to the chest (stop) and, finally, to the face.
Now, if this were Clint Eastwood, the slow visual climb would be one thing. But this is Chuck Norris, and the camera is panning inch by inch up all 4 feet 10 inches of him. OK, maybe he's a few inches taller, but the photography isn't even good enough to make him look 5 feet 10 inches tall.
Before long, it becomes sadly apparent that the producers and Norris are not kidding. They're deadly serious about treating Norris like he's Eastwood, and there's another hour and 55 dTC minutes of this lead-in-the-pants pilot left to watch.
Did I mention that we go straight from the icon shot to Walker kung-fu kicking the stuffing out of four bad guys? They don't even wait until the opening credits end to send the bodies flying.
And it's all downhill from there.
In tonight's pilot, Walker's partner gets killed; Walker hunts down the killers; he protects a young woman who was raped; he protects some circus performers who saw the rape; he gets a new partner; and he saves America from bank-robbering terrorists. Walker also races all over Fort Worth and other parts of Texas in his souped-up pickup truck and has a maybe-they-will-maybe-they-won't relationship with an assistant district attorney named Alex (Sheree J. Wilson), who is really nuts about Walker but doesn't want to show it.
"Walker, Texas Ranger" would have been retrograde in 1972. The acting is wooden. The bad guys are drawn in the dimensions of cartoon characters. I'm not even going to start to talk about how it handles racial stereotypes. It celebrates vigilantism. There's violence and more violence.
In the opening cantina scene, Walker stops kicking one of the bad guys long enough for the battered guy to raise himself up off the floor on one elbow and say, "Hey, Walker, you got no right to . . ."
"I got no right?" Walker interrupts, looking at his right fist as he says it. Then he drives his fist into the man's bloody face and laughs as he says: "How's that for a right? I think that's a pretty good right. Don't you?"
Good right. Bad show.