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Zoe Saldana takes point in ‘Special Ops: Lioness’

<i>Greg Lewis/Paramount+</i><br/>Zoe Saldana appears as Joe In
Greg Lewis/Paramount+
Zoe Saldana appears as Joe In "Special Ops: Lioness" on Paramount+.

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

(CNN) — “Yellowstone” writer-producer Taylor Sheridan has excelled at luring big stars to television with relatively thin material, a formula that feels especially transparent with “Special Ops: Lioness,” his latest series for Paramount+. Zoe Saldaña takes point in this fact-based tale of female special-ops soldiers, which races through the set up by relying on a litany of war-story cliches.

Although Saldaña’s Joe is in charge – assembling female operatives, used to infiltrate terrorist groups by getting close to wives and girlfriends as a means of locating and killing “high-value targets” – the premiere centers on Cruz (Laysla De Oliveira), who escapes an abusive relationship by conveniently running into a Marine recruitment office.

“You came to the right place,” she’s told, before acing her training and being quickly drafted to join Joe’s unit.

As the new player in this gritty world, De Oliveira (Netflix’s “Locke & Key”) provides an obvious conduit for seeing this ruthless assignment through her eyes. That’s marginally effective, made less so by the fact her story doesn’t have an ounce of originality to it.

In terms of the bigger names, Joe’s boss is played by Nicole Kidman (who, like Saldaña, receives an executive producer credit), and Morgan Freeman is also involved if unseen in the first hour, which is all that was made available in advance.

Despite being buoyed by Saldaña’s blockbuster credentials as marquee value, “Lioness” joins a long roster of military-style movies and TV shows build around such squads (“SEAL Team,” which migrated to Paramount+ from CBS, comes to mind among recent examples), a genre that possesses clear appeal in knowing who wears the white hats but doesn’t feel particularly worthy, as constructed here, of a premium-TV label.

Of course, “Yellowstone” didn’t break much new ground either, but the series found a receptive audience that has fueled multiple prequels and made the prolific Sheridan’s production kingdom one of the tallest peaks on Paramount Mountain.

There’s a place for what amounts to meat-and-potatoes TV, even in the prestige-conscious streaming world. Nevertheless, when it comes to training an audience to come back week after week, “Special Ops: Lioness” feels about as basic as it gets.

“Special Ops: Lioness” premieres July 23 on Paramount+.

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