19 April 2009 | cchase
Cop Show That Throws "Procedure" Out The Window...
Having watched everything from LAW AND ORDER to NYPD BLUE, I have a pretty good idea by now how police procedural shows work. You get a sense of the personalities of the main characters while they solve a boatload of cases week after week, but since the shows are mostly about the cases and not about the characters, nuggets of information about the heroes' quirks, family lives and other intimate details are about as rare as actually finding a real cherry in a Hostess Cherry Fruit Pie. And then they're doled out maybe one or two every fifth or sixth episode.
Which is why THE UNUSUALS is so darn refreshing. Like a fighter who actually leads with his chin, this series wears its characters odd qualities on its sleeve. And what gets doled out just like those aforementioned cherries, are bits and pieces of a puzzle underneath all the weirdness: the real secrets these characters are hiding underneath the "WTF" moments.
I never watched a single episode of JOAN OF ARCADIA, but I was immediately intrigued with Amber Tamblyn, who plays Det. Casey Shraeger. What makes her "unusual": she's a trust- fund baby from a VERY wealthy blue-blood background, who has been working in Vice "on the stroll" for two years, when she's plucked off the streets from her hooker gig and teamed up with stoic Det. Jason Walsh, played by Jeremy Renner. (You may remember Renner as the heroic and doomed soldier from 28 WEEKS LATER.) Two of the things that make him "unusual": off-duty, he runs a hole-in-the-wall diner where he cooks and serves dishes you could never imagine yourself wanting to eat, and he has been covering for his corrupt partner, who suddenly ends up looking like a slab of beef in a slaughterhouse. Since said partner was also into hookers, hence his sudden, reluctant partnership with Shraeger.
In an inspired bit of casting, two of the most watchable "unusuals" seem to have the most conventional secrets in any cop show going this far over-the-top: Adam Goldberg (SAVING PRIVATE RYAN) and Harold Perrineau (LOST, OZ) play partnered Detectives Leo Banks and Eric Delahoy, respectively. Banks wears a bulletproof vest both on and off-duty (he's terrified that he will die at age 42), where Delahoy suddenly becomes a suicidal "super-cop", who isn't afraid to do anything that might get him killed (he has a brain tumor and has been given mere months to live, if he doesn't get the operation he's determined to avoid.)
Riding herd on these and several other off-beat personalities constantly clashing in the precinct is Sgt. Harvey Brown (OZ alum Terry Kinney), who has pulled Tamblyn's seemingly squeaky-clean character in for a very specific reason: to help him clean house. Not surprisingly enough, there are several cops in their shop who are on the take and worse, and he wants to expose and take them down before his superiors are motivated to do it for him. "Nothing is what it looks like," he warns her - or something to that effect.
If the show has any problems, which are definitely not with the strong ensemble cast, it's some of the cases piled on top of everything else to heighten the weirdness. No explanation is given as to why a perp is brought in wearing a hot dog suit, or why their caseloads include everything from a serial killer of neighborhood cats, to a dangerous gang that goes on a rampage which includes virtually every male member of the family, down to the youngest brother who is an honor student in high school (so why weren't the aunts, the mother and the grandmother in on it, too?)
The goings-on with the main characters would be more than enough to keep things interesting without any more embellishments, but in a blasted landscape littered with the corpses of shows long past their prime, being fed on by the fly-blown vultures of reality TV constructs, at least THE UNUSUALS is trying by daring to be...unusual. And it's for that reason I fear that this show will be over before it even gets the chance to find its feet and its potential audience.
But I really hope I'm wrong.