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Reviewed by John Paulsen
hoever looks down their nose at “The Unit” as just another series in the vein of “NCIS” is missing out on some very compelling television. Lumping the two together is fairly easy, as they’re both adult-oriented, military-related series airing on CBS, but the similarities end there. “The Unit” follows Delta Force, a secretive group of elite soldiers that conducts covert operations around the world. With dual identities as logistics analysts, members of the unit regularly risk their lives to protect American interests, but aren’t allowed to take any credit.
With playwright/screenwriter David Mamet lending his tremendous creativity and colorful (yet sometimes unrealistic) dialogue, and fellow executive producer Shawn Ryan (“The Shield”) ensuring the necessary grit and realism, “The Unit” truly thrives during its covert missions, which are very detailed and regularly feature moral ambiguity. In its first season, the show devoted too much time to the soldiers’ wives, who were dealing with everyday life while their men were off saving the world. But the show seems to have scaled back that part and is now occasionally sprinkling in the wives’ storylines with a heavy dose of military missions.
Jonas Blane (Dennis Haysbert) typically leads these operations and serves as the anchor for the series. Haysbert previously played President David Palmer on “24,” and for fans of that show, it can take a little time to adjust to seeing him in this role. Blane reports to Col. Tom Ryan (Robert Patrick), who made the ill-advised decision to have an affair with Tiffy (Abby Brammell), wife of unit member Mack Gerhardt (Max Martini). This reoccurring storyline has added an element of romance and betrayal to this tight-knit group throughout the series run.
Season Three starts with the aftermath of the previous season’s dismantling of the unit. With Mack and Hector (Demore Barnes) arrested, it’s up to the in-the-wind Jonas, Bob (Scott Foley) and Grey (Michael Irby) to conduct their own unauthorized investigation to find out who shut down the unit and why. The writers should be commended for having the courage to throw the cards in the air like this; the show’s willingness to take drastic twists and turns is one of its best qualities.
On the home front, Bob’s wife, Kim (Audrey Marie Anderson) takes a job at a radio station, which strains their relationship, while Tiffy’s affair with Col. Ryan comes to a head. Later in the season, one of the members suffers a serious injury, which has a drastic effect on the morale and operation of the unit. Bob especially struggles with his role on the team and the consequences of his actions.
The three-disc set includes all 11 episodes from the strike-shortened season, as well as optional commentary from the cast and crew for eight of those episodes. “The Writers’ Roundtable” is a fascinating 30-minute conversation amongst the writers and creators about Season Three, with a special focus on the episode “Five Brothers,” where one of the team members is seriously injured and may die. They also discuss the creative process as well as the effect of the writers’ strike on how the final episode was shot.
Despite strong ratings, I personally don’t know too many people who actually watch the “The Unit.” Some may write it off as “pro-war,” but that’s a lazy analysis. The show never gets too preachy. A friend of mine on the opposite end of the political spectrum enjoys it just as much as I do. So a better description is probably “pro-military,” which is an ideal that viewers on both sides of the aisle can agree with.