At first glance David Mamet might seem like an unlikely source for this midseason replacement series about a team of Special Forces soldiers and their wives. But one thing the Oscar nominated screenwriter and Pulitzer prize-winning playwright has always admired is balls. You remember Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross and what he told you it takes to sell real estate? Well, this is just another variation of that same idea.
Based on the book “Inside Delta Force,” The Unit focuses on a five-man team that’s part of the 303rd Logistical Studies group, a cover for a black-ops counter terrorism force that operates under the direct authority of the President of The United States. The show looks at every aspect of a covert soldier’s life, at home and in the field, and begs the question: what exactly is the price paid by such men and their families all in the name of service to their country?
The show takes a balanced, two-pronged attack, showing us the missions in the field and the battles fought at home as the stress and pressures of such a secretive existence slowly mount. Dennis Haysbert, the charismatic President from early seasons of 24, once again is a picture of gravitas and an emblem of noble masculinity; the tireless team leader that saves the world, kills the baddies, and still makes it home for dinner (most of the time). Also excellent is Robert Patrick, who plucks a stock character off the shelf for the hardnosed, whatever-it-takes commanding officer.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Obviously the budget doesn’t allow it to be Black Hawk Down every single week, but it’s when a little money is thrown around that the series is at its best. Out in the field The Unit can execute a blistering, flash-bang action sequence with the best of them. The home front drama is less successful and far less interesting. There is a reason why Army Wives is a show on the Women’s Network. But the well cast ladies amiably make up for some slightly less than riveting material. In the end it just simply doesn’t have the money to carry out that which it aspires to, which is precisely why there aren’t many shows of this ilk out there and why war is and always will be best served on the big screen. Saying that, if you can forgive its limitations then it’s still a very tasty snack while you’re hungry until you’re able to partake in a meal.
After it was picked up for a second season The Unit found its format extended from 13 episodes to a full 22. Unfortunately a consequence of that is the short, sharp shock treatment that was the show’s best weapon is now diluted. Instead of tightening itself up around the waist, the budget and the storylines are now even more spread out and The Unit consistently finds itself thin in all the wrong places; missions are now almost Star Trek-esque with a cultural talking point of the week type attachment.
According to The Unit, America is good and other countries are bad, period. Pacifists and the anti-war crowd are pussies. Intellectuals are pussies. Left wing politicians are interfering pussies. People who don’t like guns are pussies. If you are not a pro-military, pro-American, Christian conservative, then you have no place in this show other than to somehow endanger national security and be exposed as the inept wanker that you so clearly are. Take as an example a guy simply remarking at his office about how he doesn’t believe in private gun ownership. Rather than simply letting him have his point of view, the show will instead have no option but to show him just how wrong he is by ten minutes later having a deranged rapist walk in off the street and attack the woman who works for him as if to suggest that this is the kind of thing that will definitely happen to you if you don’t pack heat.
In their great eagerness to show how capable and correct the American military is in the protection of its national security interests, the writers have managed to eliminate any sense of threat and danger that might otherwise have made the show riveting. These guys simply don’t make mistakes, ever. They are never in error and if at any point they appear to be, then it is later revealed to be some calculated ruse that ultimately serves a larger, unseen objective. But a show like this can’t exist without risk and while people do die, more often than not there simply isn’t any. Now, well into its fourth season, this show has made it’s intentions clear. It’s simply not going to settle down, stop trying to clever and political and just be content to be a show about five boys with toys who are more than a bit hard. Which is a shame.
Starring: Dennis Haysbert, Max Martini, Robert Patrick, Scott Foley, Michael Irby, Demore Barnes, Abby Brammell, Regina Taylor, Audrey Marie Anderson
Creator: David Mamet