Have you ever been friends with someone who never spoke of politics and then suddenly came out as a Republican? That’s the feeling evoked by The Unit, a red-blooded military drama from playwright-filmmaker David Mamet and Shawn Ryan, the creative mastermind of FX’s The Shield. There’s a lot to like about the show—the cast is terrific and the writing extremely intelligent—but the series is rife with undercurrents likely to alienate any left-of-center fans of both creators.
The format is an unlikely hybrid of Mission: Impossible and Desperate Housewives (minus the latter’s comic elements). Every week, a Delta Force squad takes on a challenging assignment (often involving the rescue of imperiled Americans), while their spouses face equally thorny domestic problems back home (an agnostic wife wants to stop her daughter from praying, and the others react as if she were practicing cannibalism). As new recruit Tom Ryan, Felicity’s Scott Foley makes an odd fit with Dennis Haysbert, Robert Patrick and the gaggle of less familiar he-men on the team. And while Regina Taylor is terrific as the wife of Haysbert’s Master Sergeant Jonas Blaine, her forceful personality and ample physique only accentuate the extent to which the other actresses were apparently cast more for their beanpole looks than their acting chops..
Mamet has covered this territory before, in his crackerjack 2004 thriller Spartan, a film that questioned authority in a way The Unit never does. Though he’s a welcome presence on television, he hardly challenges himself by shamelessly catering to the demographic that turned CBS’s JAG and Navy NCIS into long-lived hits. Politics per se are avoided here, but while the commandos are appealing, viewers who follow the news may have trouble avoiding queasiness about where their orders are coming from.—Andrew Johnston