April 12, 2009

new show review: the unusuals

Both ABC (The Unusuals) and NBC (Southland) premiered new cop shows last week. I'm going to try not to sound off this, but more cop shows, really? I'll admit it, I like a crime drama as much as the next girl, but it's just such a stale premise. This stuff sells though - that's why they keep rolling out more of them.

This is my initial review of The Unusuals - a new show about the NYPD homicide unit on Wednesday nights on ABC. As far as cop shows go, it has what I'm looking for - quirky characters, an overarching plotline to compliment the procedural, and some good writing. The question is whether this will come together as anything worth watching.

Here's the cast: Amber Tamblyn (she traveled in pants and played Emily on General Hospital back in the day) plays Detective Casey Shreager - a cop fresh off spending two years under cover with vice as a hooker. She gets a quick promotion to homicide to join a new partner Walsh - played by Jeremy Renner (you've seen him around) - to investigate the murder of his partner. Another set of partners are Banks played by Harold Perrineau (Michael from Lost) and Dalahov played by Adam Goldberg (been in tons of things, but I like to remember him from Dazed and Confused). Then there's Beamont played by Monique Gabriela Curnen, Kai Lennox playing Alvarez (don't know either of them), and the department Sargent Brown played by Terry Kinney (Oz, thirtysomething).

In the pilot, the department is investigating the death of a cop (Walsh's partner). Alavarez is the case lead - he seems like the department douche bag and actually has a legit mustache and "Top Gun" sunglasses. Walsh and Shreager are doing the bulk of the investigating. During the investigation, they find the dead cop's hideout where he has many files and information about other cops in the department. We learn that Walsh (played a little too severely by Renner) was a Yankees first baseman in a past life.

One other member of the department I forgot to mention is Detective Henry Cole (played by Joshua Close), who first appears as a God-talking seemingly naive young detective. Turns out, he has a colorful past (under a different name) as a drug user who hi-jacked a car, and his old file is also in the dead cop's hideout. Cole ends up planting the dead cop's badge and gun in a suspect's apartment, who was killed by Shreager in a raid. The department thinks they got the right guy, but we know the story is just beginning.

In the B plot, Banks (who wears a bullet proof vest 24 hours a day) and Dalahov (who also has a legit mustache now that I think about it) investigate a series of cat killings. We learn that Dalahov is keeping a secret that he has been diagnosed with a brain tumor, but is keeping it a secret. This leads to a crazy cat-killer chase scene where Banks ends up on the subway tracks face-to-face with an oncoming train and not going anywhere fast. He doesn't get hit. They have a pretty funny scene interrogating the cat-killer with a fake lie detector machine that's actually a desktop copier.

We also find out that Shreager (Tamblyn) is actually a New York princess, who went to private school, but she's hiding this from the department for fear that they won't take her seriously. We meet her Upper East Side parents, including a mother who frequently nags her cell phone and tells her she looks like a lesbian in her pants suit.

The filming has creative camera angles and tricks here are there. Unlike most cop shows, the lighting is bright and clear. I thought that looked inauthentic at first, but it seems refreshing after watching a while. There's good use of music, which seems to aim for an air of comedy.

Bottom line: It's clear that Tamblyn's Shreager is the center of this ensemble cast, and she fits well into this role. By the end of the pilot, we know that something is amiss within this department and Sargent Brown bought Shraeger in to investigate from the inside. ABC is billing this as a "modern day "M*A*S*H" - I laughed a few times, but I definitely wouldn't go that far. I am intrigued enough to keep watching though.


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