Occasionally a reboot comes along that’s so different from the original you wonder why they bothered. “Walker” is one of those, dropping the “Texas Ranger” part of the title from the CBS series that signed off 20 years ago, and trading in Chuck Norris for “Supernatural’s” Jared Padalecki, in what feels more like a family drama than a butt-kicking crime show.
Part of that revised profile has to do with airing the series — described as a “reimagining,” but really just a means of leveraging the name — on the CW, a younger-skewing network than CBS. Indeed, that’s especially true compared to the ’90s when “Walker” patrolled Saturday nights along with Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” and “Touched by an Angel,” shows that disproportionately appealed to more rural communities seeking the TV equivalent of comfort food.
Far from a taciturn loner, Cordell Walker comes home to Texas after an extended assignment out of town following the death of his wife. He comes back to a big, rambunctious family, including a pair of children (Violet Brinson, Kale Culley) harboring more just than the usual TV-teen resentments and rebellion, since dad shuffled them off to stay with their grandparents (Molly Hagan and “The X-Files'” Mitch Pileggi) while he was away.
As for work, Walker is a bit of a dinosaur, told in no-uncertain terms that the old ways of police work have “got to evolve,” which might be a not-so-subtle cue to viewers that the previous show’s “kick first, ask questions later” mentality was no longer going to fly.
“I’m learning,” he says, in a way that sounds unexpectedly sincere.
Other than the cowboy hats and drawls, there’s not much to indicate the setting initially. Walker does get a new female partner in Micki Ramirez (Lindsey Morgan), who — through a rather hastily incorporated run-in with a criminal — pretty quickly earns his respect.
CBS has enjoyed a fair amount of success with revivals like “Hawaii Five-O,” “Magnum P.I.” and MacGyver,” and name recognition is an asset just in terms of getting attention. Truth be told, if this show was titled “Miller,” odds are you wouldn’t be reading word one about it here.
The secret sauce here might be Padalecki and his easy-going charm, which after a 15-year run on “Supernatural” have almost become part of the CW’s DNA. One suspects many of his fans will simply be happy to see him back in action, but even for them, “Walker” represents a relatively low-key way to get your kicks.
“Walker” premieres Jan. 21 at 8 p.m. on the CW, which is half-owned by CNN parent WarnerMedia.