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.