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With the official start of the 2005-06 season less than two months away, the drumbeats have begun by the networks to tout their new comedies and dramas. What should you keep your eye out for? What should you avoid at all costs? While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we thought we'd spend the next month previewing what's in store for the upcoming season. Each day we'll look at two of the 47 new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot.
There's no particular order here, just whatever's next on the stack of tapes. So without further ado, here's today's entries:
THE UNIT (CBS)
(TBA at midseason)
The network's description: "THE UNIT stars Dennis Haysbert ("24"), Scott Foley ("Felicity"), Robert Patrick ("The X-Files") and Golden Globe Award winner Regina Taylor ("I'll Fly Away") in an action drama that follows a covert team of special forces operatives as they risk their lives on undercover missions around the globe, while their families maintain the homefront, protecting their husbands' secrets. Max Martini ("Saving Private Ryan"), Michael Irby ("Pi�ero"), Demore Barnes ("The Associates"), Abby Brammell ("Revenge of The Middle-Aged Woman") and Amy Acker ("Catch Me If You Can") also star. Pulitzer Prize-winning and two-time Academy Award-nominated writer David Mamet ("Glengarry Glen Ross") and Emmy Award-nominated writer Shawn Ryan ("The Shield") are executive producers for Twentieth Century Fox Television."
What did they leave out: The show is full-blown David Mamet complete with his unique dialogue and sense of drama. If anything it feels like an extension of his little-seen (but well worth catching) 2004 feature "Spartan."
The plot in a nutshell: We follow husband and wife Bob (Scott Foley) and Kim Brown (Amy Acker) on their first day as part of the vaguely-named "The Unit," a secret Special Forces unit of the Army that answers only to the President. Bob is thrown to the wolves by his C.O. Jonas Blaine (Dennis Haysbert) during a hostage standoff on an airplane runway and Acker is shown the ropes on "The Unit's" base by Molly (Regina Taylor), the wife of Haysbert's character. In each case they learn the rules of their situation: in Bob's case it's if they succeed someone else takes the credit and if they fail they get court marshalled; in Kim's case it's that they must hide all knowledge of their husbands' actions, at any cost.
What works: Creepy, unique and exhilarating all at the same time, "The Unit" is filled to the brim with all of Mamet's mainstays: from the almost machine-like efficiency to how his characters operate to his panache for stage-like dialogue. Added to that are Shawn Ryan's gritty realism he cultivated on "The Shield" and the gravitas of such actors as Haysbert and Taylor. Haysbert particularly owns his role - a grizzled, but unwaveringly confident solider - just gobbles it up and makes it his. Even cooler is that all the expected drama clich�s are deftly avoided: instead of newbie Bob being distrusted by the rest of the team, they feel sorry for him as they know the world he's about to enter; instead of having the typical "you don't have the authority to tell us what to do" scene involving the F.B.I., Haysbert simply looks around for a moment and says: "You, you and you... panic. The rest of you come with me." There's so much to look forward to with this show - I can't wait.
What doesn't: It's not so much that it doesn't work, it's that you can feel the "homefront" aspect of the show painting itself into a corner. Like Bob, his wife (whom he has one child with another on the way), gets the "this is how things work" tour by Taylor's character (giving "24's" Penny Johnson Jerald a run for her money in the badass TV wives of Dennis Haysbert category). The problem is after seeing what the other wives have to deal with (some of whom don't see their husbands for months at a time), she wants out and Taylor must calm her down. Not exactly taking on hostage holding terrorists is it? Even with a twist at the end the opens the door for other homefront stories (and some slightly sinister allusions to what happens if their secret gets out), one can't help but be underwhelmed by the respite from the military action. That being said, once the boys return home at the end things perk up significantly as we get to see some of their relationships as well.
The challenges ahead: Will TV audiences accept such an unorthodox military drama? And more importantly, will there be a good place on CBS's schedule to launch it? Is there a cooler voice than Dennis Haysbert's? We'll find out at some point next year on CBS.