Thursday, April 09, 2009
TV REVIEW: ABC's "The Unusuals"
I'm not really a fan of the buddy cop procedurals--not unless the cops in question are quirky like Cruz and Dani on "Life," and Richard and Kate on "Castle." I prefer quirky ensembles, in the vein of "Bones" and "The Mentalist." Those cops aren't just cogs in the wheel of a case, which is how I feel most of the "CSI" and "Law & Order" cops are. They're so...cardboard--not two-dimensional, but just...bland. The viewer has to want to come back for the people and not just the cases. They should want to know what's eating away at their favorite detective this week. That's why I gave "The Unusuals" a shot. They've cornered the market on quirk.
The pilot sets up the season's driving force. A cop, Kowalski, was murdered, and while the episode ends with a drug dealer, who sought to avenge his little brother's death, as the main suspect, it's more likely that Kowalski's secret investigation of his fellow officers was the real reason. Especially since the newly reformed, bible-thumping Henry (Joshua Close), who moved to NYC and changed his name after stealing an armored car at the age of 18, planted the gun and badge in the drug dealer's house. Don't hate him just yet. He's not your average low life. He's not resolute in his decision, as he truly did find God after his wild teen years. Me thinks there's more to his evil deeds than meets the eye, like perhaps someone's forcing his hand.
He hesitated as he was about to stash the evidence in a hole in the wall, and the cause of his hesitation was the gun powder outline of one of his fellow officers that looked like Jesus. The lucky bastard, who survived a gun shot blast to the face, was Eric (Adam Goldberg from Deja Vu and Zodiac), a reckless officer who's resolved himself to dying any which way than by the brain tumor that's given him six months to live. His partner, Leo (Harold Perrineau from "Lost"), on the other hand, is an overly cautious and superstitious cop who believes that he'll follow in the footsteps of every man in his family and die at the age of 42, which is the age he just turned. These two putzes, however, have a higher life expectancy than Casey (Amber Tamblyn from "Joan of Arcadia"). She's the new cop on the team, who was pulled from vice to be the sergeant's (Terry Kinney from "Oz") eyes and ears, and flush out a corrupt cop, which sounds like the assignment Kowalski was on...and we know how that ended.
Casey's partner and Kowalski's ex-partner is Jason (Jeremy Renner from The Hurt Locker). He's supposed to be odd in a hot way, and he sort of pulls it off, but his background is so cluttered with oddities I'm not sure what to make of him. He used to play for the Yankees, he owns a diner that he seems to simply open when he's hungry or bored, he makes disgusting meals, he can't give a straight answer for why he became a cop, and he believes that people's secrets are what keep them sane. So I guess we should expect him to lose his cool once they're all revealed. I bet they're more interesting and jarring than whatever reason Casey relentlessly got kicked out of six prep schools, dropped out of Harvard, and chose walking the streets--sometimes literally--over rubbing elbows with the rich and aimless like her socialite parents want her to. No, Jason's secret might hark closer to Castle's Kate, driven to drop out of the league because of the death of the person who left him that diner. I'm just spit-balling, but they could be connected...or maybe he's just unusual.
While it's true that these cops are offbeat, they thankfully don't overdo it. I love the sporadic CB radio announcements that say things like, "Be on the look out for a ninja or a ninja-like figure." The quirk is balanced with a good dose of normalcy. Jason may mix pretzels into an omelet, but he also playfully messes with Officer Eddie (Kai Lennox), who loves pandering to the press, kissing the boss's ass, and taking credit for things he has no right to--he's a social climber in the worst way. Casey may prefer rags over riches, but she also has that classic female cop persona. The sergeant said he chose her because she couldn't be bribed, but I think it's because she's eager to prove herself and be treated like a badge and not a vagina. Leo may wear a bulletproof vest 24/7, but he's also eager to work on big cases and not crimes like a cat-murdering spree. Eric may comically blow his top at anyone who pushes him too far, making his "bad cop" routine that much more entertaining, but his reaction to realizing his fleeting mortality is very very normal. Some people, like Ugly Betty's Holly, would just prefer to live the life they have left instead of wasting it away in a hospital bed. Lastly, Henry may respond to every situation with religious undertones, which seem out of place in a gun-toting, shit-talking precinct, but his tussle with good and evil is totally human.
Being unusual is the goal, but they're also dedicated to realism. When the sergeant tells Jason his partner is dead, he doesn't take him aside or sit him down, he just says it like he's ordering a pizza. Cops don't stop to mourn. When a fellow officer is killed, the number one priority is to get the guy who did it. The series is as much of a parody of police enforcement as it is a love letter to the job. In the end, when Jason says a few words to honor his partner, he explains that badge numbers are handed down just like jersey numbers are in sports, unless the badge owner dies, then it's retired. Despite all the wild antics of the day, ultimately, the badge is something to be respected. Because of the great mix of humor and drama, it has potential. Of course, it all depends on where the underlying mystery is headed.