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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Or something.

/* Spoilers */

Watched The Unit. What a waste of writing talent.

The idea of a top-secret deniable US Army unit is pretty old. My first writing credit was on a piece of straight-to-video called Warriors about a guy from one of those units who goes AWOL. But of course our unit did nasty stuff -- the movie started with a massacre of a Bolivian wedding party, presumably because of something to do with drugs. If your unit is doing legit work, it doesn't need to be top secret, and it can go through regular channels.

Not David Mamet's unit. They do perfectly legitimate work, and for no particular reason, they are top secret and deniable. And one ridiculous thing happens after another.

The Unit goes on a mildly preposterous mission -- to laser-designate a car in Afghanistan that could, obviously, have been laser-designated and destroyed by a Predator drone. By pretending to be "businessmen." Because so many businessmen in Afghanistan are either Caucasian or African-American. Because you would obviously use Special Forces guys who live in the US to do a job like that, instead of the many suberb Special Forces warriors who live there and have developed close relationships with the locals.

Then they go on an utterly preposterous mission: to take over a plane that Arab terrorists have somehow taken over in Idaho. Because it is so easy for terrorists to get guns and explosives onto a plane these days. And passengers are so willing to sit still and be murdered after 9/11. And they rush the plane all on their own. Because the FBI is so willing to step aside when loud-talking Army people say they should. Because threatening to murder them works so well with FBI agents. Because you wouldn't want to use the local SWAT guys, or the FBI's SWAT guys, or even coordinate with them.

Theoretically what's interesting about this show is the lives of the women back home. But we learn nothing about them that we couldn't imagine on our own. Security is tight. The wives aren't supposed to say where their husbands are. That point gets hammered over the head over and over and over. We don't get a sense what these women really might be like because they're too busy Stepfording the new girl.

I had trouble believing any part of this pilot. From the wife who seems to have no awareness of the kind of job her husband has signed on for, or the rules under which he and she will both be operating, to the decision to set the terrorism in the US because, presumably, US audiences don't care about anything that happens beyond their borders, this show felt like amateur hour.

What I missed most was Mamet-speak. I was hoping for some Mamet-speak. Part of the joys of watching David Mamet's work is how he turns ordinary sentences into poetry. How his characters are cartoonish yet believable. This pilot had one non-zinger after another. Lines like "... as if your life depended on it. Because, believe me, it does." Heavy-handed, earnest, on-the-nose, RCMP dialog.

Sorry, PM, but you might want to start hunting for a new job after the overnights come in.

Ah, well. On to 8th and Ocean.


Whew! I'm glad I'm not the only one who was thinking exactly what Alex was thinking. I thought there might be something wrong with me...well, there is -- but let's not get into that.

By Blogger Kelly J. Crawford, at 1:44 PM  

I'm willing to give it another couple of episodes before giving up, but I'm with you, Alex.

No Mametty dialogue, and also no Mametty twists, or humor. GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS is one dark piece of theater, but it's also really funny in spots.

The Afghani teaser blew my mind. "We are businessmen!" Why not just say "Nobody here but us chickens!" and be done with it, Sergeant Major Obvious? And why do the laser painting in broad daylight, right in the middle of town, where the local warlord's having a snack?

24 and ALIAS set the bar for implausible-but-okay-we-buy-it spy action, not to mention how to thread in real, character-driven emotional connection amidst the gunplay and disguises.

Not sure why THE UNIT didn't take those lessons to heart. Maybe they will yet.

By Blogger Kira Snyder, at 4:38 PM  

Actually, the US Army's real-life "Delta" force operates pretty much the way the Unit does in this show. Their operations are top secret, the Army has never officially acknowledged their existence, the operators don't have uniforms or unit badges, they dress in civilian clothes, and don't follow conventional rank structure. I missed the first ten minutes of the episode, but what I saw was a lot more plausible than anything on 24.

By Blogger Gilman, at 12:34 PM  

That's fine. But the Delta force does not ask a bunch of Rangers sitting nearby to join them. The Ranger guys would certainly NOT disregard their CO to follow some guy in a button shirt. That's just not how the Army works. The Delta Force does not threaten (I hope) FBI agents. It would not (I hope) operate anywhere near television cameras. The whole plot was just a lazy, lazy, lazy way to start the series with an operation on US soil.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 12:55 PM  

What does RCMP stand for, as in "Heavy-handed, earnest, on-the-nose, RCMP dialog."?

By Blogger Tom, at 12:01 PM  

A bit heavy handed on the dialogue then. Must be a case of fat fingers.

By Blogger Tom, at 3:29 PM  

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