Monday, January 14, 2008

The Unit

The Unit is created by David Mamet, one of my favourite writers. Like 24 the show is about Military Alpha Males doing the right thing, one of my guilty pleasures. Episodes written by Mamet himself contain flashes of his brilliant, weird, oddly poetic, tough-guy speak. “How’s the world, young soldier?” “Light and Bright, Sir.” The series is about a black-ops unit: at one point two of them, one black and one white, introduce themselves to the authorities as Mr. Black and Mr. White. When two more show up, Mr. Black introduces the two new guys as “Mr. Black and Mr. White.” “I thought Black and White were your names” he says. “They’re our brothers” comes the deadpan reply.

The problem is, at least in the first eight episodes (all I have seen at this point) the show, a kind of cross between 24 and Alias, is locked into a very limited structure. An hour-long drama with commercials, the show globe-hops almost every episode and at a minimum every episode focuses equally on the soldiers on a mission and the wives at home – and sometimes one of those plots includes a subplot. Because the show is committed to doing one off episodes – so thorough is the show about this I watched two episodes out of order and did not even notice – the dual plots, less than 20 minutes each, are forced to resolve with sitcom like simplicity. If a wife refuses to pray at the beginning of the hour, by the end she will be asking God for help. 24 has its share of problems, but its false neatness is covered up much better by the 24 hours in 24 episodes structure than CBS’s too friendly design.

I would very much like to see Mamet writing a season of 24, because the strengths of both could be easily combined. The characters on 24 never say anything memorable.

As a side note there is a weird connection between the two shows. Dennis Haysbert – who plays the president in season 2 of 24, and is also the guy from the All State Insurance adds because he is famous for noble trustworthy characters – is the leader of the unit, a Delta Force black-ops team. Max Martini – the second in command under Haysbert on the unit – also starred briefly on 24, as a military guy hired by Haysbert’s president to take down a Delta Force black-ops team. So The Unit makes these two guys from 24 into the opponents they faced on 24 and recasts the black ops guys as the good guys.


Not Ultros said...

Let's not forget Haysbert in Michael Mann's HEAT, playing a similar character in completely different situations.

Björninn said...

I watched the first season of The Unit back when it aired, precisely because alpha males doing the right thing (or the wrong thing for the right reasons) is what Mamet and Ryan are good at. And they do deliver. But the domestic side is just plain boring. A bunch of military wives having affairs and buying real estate? It's as though you're watching one half Spartan and one half Spartan's Lonely Wife with only a nominal connection between the two. And it comes off as trying to lure female viewers onto a show that would be far better off without them.

I do seem to remember the final episode colliding those two worlds, but when season two rolled around I really couldn't be bothered.

Jason Powell said...

"a kind of cross between 24 and Alias"

***Question for you: Which show would you say is better, 24 or Alias? I ask 'cause I got into an argument with my friend a couple weeks ago. He claimed Alias was just a poor man's 24. Since Alias is one of my favorite shows of all time, I took umbrage. But I haven't seen 24, so I couldn't *really* argue. But from what I know the shows don't seem *that* similar ...

I don't know, he might've just been saying that because he knew it would get my goat.

sfwriter6 said...

I agree that the Mamet dialog is alway recognizable, giving The Unit some of its edge.

My problem with Mamet (and the show) is that he doesn't seem to write female characters as well as males. The other writers follow suit. It makes the show lop-sided.

As a female fan of The Unit, I would be more than happy if they dropped the focus on the wives, unless it concerns the men and their jobs. I like the action, the weapons and the missions, as well as the fascinating male bonding.