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New Series 'Coyote' Explores Crisis At America's Border With Mexico

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Michael Chiklis, best known for his starring role in "The Shield," is back with a new drama on the streaming service CBS All Access. The show is called "Coyote." NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says it isn't quite the show he hoped to see about the crisis at America's border with Mexico.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: There's an emotional debate underway over how undocumented immigrants are treated at the border. So it's more than a little odd to see a major TV series about that region centered on a white, retired border guard victimized by a murderous Mexican drug cartel. I've always been a huge fan of Michael Chiklis' work since his turn as amoral antihero Vic Mackey on FX's long-ago police drama "The Shield." So I took a look at "Coyote," where Chiklis plays no-nonsense Border Patrol agent Ben Clemens. Walking to the car with his rookie partner, Clemens lays down the law after the young agent complained about a joke he made about racial profiling.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "COYOTE")

MICHAEL CHIKLIS: (As Ben Clemens) Our jurisdiction covers 100 miles inland, any border or coastline in America. Now, in that zone, Fourth Amendment protections do not apply, which means I can and will stop and search anybody that I suspect is breaking immigration laws, despite how you might feel about it.

DEGGANS: But soon, Ben is retired and hanging out in Mexico, trying to help finish building a cabin owned by his former partner. Ben tries his hard-line attitude with a woman he meets who gives food from her restaurant to people sneaking into the U.S. She hands him an education on the consequences of his willful ignorance.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "COYOTE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) We can't seem to stop fighting over the lines in the sand.

CHIKLIS: (As Ben Clemens) Well, those lines were put there for a reason.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) If a young woman came to your door hungry, looking for a job, not a handout, does she get across your line?

CHIKLIS: (As Ben Clemens) It's not my line. It was my job to make sure that my side of the line was as safe as possible.

DEGGANS: Ben Clemens is an odd creation. Retiring after 32 years in the Border Patrol, he doesn't speak Spanish or even Spanglish. He's also clueless about how drug cartels control Mexican border towns, stumbling into a situation where a cartel leader, given to grandiose speeches, threatens his family.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "COYOTE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) It's a different type of machismo you have. It's not Latin, more Anglo. The difference is...

CHIKLIS: (As Ben Clemens) Where is my...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Your daughter is fine, if you play by the rules.

CHIKLIS: (As Ben Clemens) If you or anyone who works for you even sneezes near my family, I swear I'll kill you.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) There it is, machismo like a cowboy. You do as you're told. You tell no one. And I promise you your family will be safe.

DEGGANS: We're meant to learn the hopelessness of the border situation by watching Ben discover it. But shouldn't a border cop with three decades in the game already know some of this stuff? Like when a Mexican police officer, who seems like a decent guy, explains why he goes along with the cartel that rules his town.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "COYOTE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Protect and serve - isn't that what it says on your police cars del otro lado (ph)? In this country, it's protect and survive. I have a son in Tecate. I do my job, make a difference where I can. But when someone threatens your family, you'll do anything to keep them alive, even if that means doing nothing.

DEGGANS: Doesn't help that the show's supporting characters - a conflicted Mexican cop, a cartel thug too smart for the life, a cartel leader torn between his toxic dad and manipulative uncle - are way more interesting than bumbling Ben. Too many Latino characters here are criminals, corrupt or sadly ineffective - victims or victimizers. This is a series that wants to be so much better than it is, but by building a ludicrous storyline around its least compelling character, "Coyote" misses a prime opportunity to say something substantive about the trouble at America's southern border.

I'm Eric Deggans.

(SOUNDBITE OF KUPLA'S "KINGDOM IN BLUE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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