|The Unit: Season One (2006)
Starring: Dennis Haysbert, Scott Foley, Robert Patrick, Max Martini, Michael Irby, Demore Barnes, Regina Taylor, Audrey Marie Anderson, Abby Brammell
It’s good to see the President alive and kicking. Dennis Haysbert, that is, after his character was callously assassinated at the start of “24” last season. The death marked the end of a fabulous performance to what might very well be the best fictional president in the history of the medium, and thankfully, the veteran actor hasn’t been deterred. His latest project, the CBS military drama “The Unit,” has Haysbert working with some of the most talented names in the industry: award-winning writer/director David Mamet and “The Shield” creator Shawn Ryan. Together, they’ve managed to create an enjoyable midseason replacement that is not only perfect for the man in every household, but the woman as well. The ratings speak for themselves, and despite an almost nonexistent ad campaign, “The Unit” has fast become one of the most watched shows on television. And for good reason, too.
Named for the top secret Special Forces team that the show revolves around, “The Unit” stars Haysbert as Jonas Blane, the veteran leader of the group who risks his life to save the day, and then returns home to take out the trash. Joining Blane in the field is second-in-command Mack Gerhardt (Max Martini), Charles Grey (Michael Irby), Hector Williams (Demore Barnes) and newcomer Bob Brown (Scott Foley), and while they may all take part in some of the most dangerous missions around the world, there’s a catch: their unit technically doesn’t exist, so they never get credit for a job well done.
What’s so interesting about the show, however, is that it doesn’t stop there. Executing a cover as desk jockeys for some bullshit logistical unit on base, the men aren’t the only ones tasked with living a lie. Their wives are also handed that responsibility, and should they not uphold this secrecy, it would directly put the lives of their husbands (and that of other wives’ husbands) at serious risk. Of course, what first looks like a show strictly about the military quickly turns into a strange amalgamation of “The Shield” and “Desperate Housewives.” These women have stories too – whether its about Jonas’ wife (Regina Taylor) playing the role of queen bee, Bob’s wife (Audrey Marie Anderson) adjusting to life as the new kid on the block, or Mack’s wife (Abby Brammell) having an affair with his commanding officer (Robert Patrick), you better believe that they’re going to get their chance to tell it.
What’s essentially so great about the show isn’t the large-scale dynamic, but rather the fact that Mamet is on board as a writer in addition to his credit as creator/executive producer. This means that the scripts are littered with classic Mamet dialogue, which in turn means that most of what comes out of the characters’ mouths isn’t very realistic. The pilot alone is brimming with several such instances. When asked how the world looks, Foley replies “Light and bright,” and when giving out orders to a bunch of by-the-book soldiers, Haysbert says “You three panic, the rest come with me.” And let’s not forget the big revelation about how cool the job is at the end of the episode: “You kidding? You get to shoot guns, jump out of airplanes and then come home to your family. It’s damn near perfect.” This is hardly a criticism, though, because while the dialogue may be ridiculously impractical, it’s a welcome change in comparison to shows just like it.The season one DVD release isn’t quite so safe from critique. It’s pretty obvious that Fox was a bit short on time when putting this four-disc box set together, and the end result is far from adequate. Featuring all thirteen episodes in an anamorphic widescreen video transfer, the only special features that appear are one audio commentary (on the episode “SERE,” with executive producer Shawn Ryan, author Eric L. Haney and actor Demore Barnes) and a short production featurette on the origin of the series (“Inside Delta Force). Now, while it’s completely reasonable that the DVD isn’t quite as “jam packed” as it probably should be (the turnover time before the end of the first season and the beginning of the next season was only a couple months), there’s simply no reasoning behind the studio’s decision to record only one commentary track, when several more could have easily been produced in the same day. I guess it’s just the price that loyal fans will have to pay in order to have their favorite show seen by a larger audience. In retrospect, it’s a fair trade, but for the here and now, well, it sucks.