The Unusuals is my kinda show.
Unlike the other new cop show, Southland (which we thought was already a thing, that’s how similar it looks to other cop shows already out there), The Unusuals is quirky, but not too quirky. Not, like, Pushing Daisies quirky. More like… um… I can’t actually think of anything to compare it to. How about we call it a funnier version of Homicide: Life on the Streets, since that’s where they stole the whole “Xerox as lie detector” bit from. Or not. I don’t really think it’s that good. Maybe it’s more like. . . The Office meets NYPD: Blue. The comparisons to the tone of M*A*S*H* are not unwarranted. But I don’t know if it’s that good, either.
The humour here is black, which one should expect, seeing as how Rescue Me‘s Denis Leary and Peter Tolan and Noah Hawley of Bones all get varying degrees of producing credits. I like it that way, but then, I work in newsrooms, where gallows humour is your main defence at not letting the depressing nature of what you do affect other areas of your life. It does anyway, but you try. I imagine it’s the same way in hospitals and police departments around the world.
And unlike all the CSIs and Law & Orders of the world, The Unusuals seems driven more by character than plot. This is a good thing, since most police show plots are pretty much the same: Identify bad guy, locate bad guy, arrest bad guy, get bad guy’s confession. Repeat as needed. To counter this, The Unusuals is stocked with an array of quirky detectives.
First you’ve got Amber Tamblyn’s Casey Schraeger, who’s hiding her snooty society background from her fellow officers and dealing with her parents. Hint: They’re not proud of her civil servant job and she doesn’t care about what stole mumsie is wearing to the theatuh. Then there’s Jason Walsh (Jeremy Renner), a detective who owns a tiny diner, mostly because rent is cheap and he can sleep in the back, but also because sometimes, he gets an urge to make and sell porkchops in a Skittles reduction. You know how it is.
These two are partnered together in the pilot when Walsh’s partner is killed. The Second Precinct’s Seargent Harvey Brown, played here by Oz‘s Terry Kinny, wears his world weary attitude like Columbo wore his trenchcoat and reveals that he has ulterior motives for bumping Schraeger up from Vice to Homicide. He wants her to watch Walsh and the others in the precinct because “My house is in disarray.”
Schraeger and Walsh work the case and find out the dead cop, though corrupt, wasn’t quite the hardass he pretended to be. For starters, he was a big brother (To The Wire‘s Dukie! Who is in a wheelchair!) and he had a storage locker that was set on fire. When they visit the locker, they find photos and files on all the detectives in the Second. Including Renner’s character, who also played first base for the Yankees. (See, he’s bordering on too quirky.)
That’s all interesting enough, but for my money, the show only really got going during the B plot, which focused on the mismatched partners played by Adam Goldberg (Dazed and Confused and Saving Private Ryan) and Harold Perrineau (Oz and Lost).
Goldberg plays Eric Delahoy, a detective who’s just been told he has a brain tumour. He’s opted against treatment and is now tempting treating every perp and bust like a Kamikaze mission, since he no longer cares if he lives or dies. But somebody has other plans. Twice in the pilot he escapes certain death. His partner is Leo Banks, who wears his bullet proof vest at all times because he’s just turned 42, the age at which his father and grandfather died. He’s so paralyzed with fear of death that instead of taking a door with his fellow officers, Banks spends the bust puking in the lobby of a walk-up.
Their case involves tracking down a guy who’s killing cats and finding creative ways to get him to confess. They try the aforementioned photo copier as lie detector tact (This is the third time I’ve seen it used on a cop show, so I’ve gotta assume criminals have wised up to it by now) and when that doesn’t work, they cover their suspect in fish sauce and put him in a cruiser with a bunch of hungry kitties, timing how long it will take for the dude to spill his guts. Less than two minutes, turns out.
Because Goldberg and Perrineau are pros, this is all way less stupid than it sounds.
There’s also another female detective who didn’t get much to do in the pilot, an altar boy detective whose past isn’t so squeak clean, and a smarmy Schrute-esque dude who refers to himself in the third person. Each segment is introduced by an annoyed dispatcher, instructing the cops to be on the lookout for one crazy character or another. The payoff is when said characters appear in the background at the station house after they’re apprehended. I also like the shots of New York. It looks less drab and dreary than it does on most cop shows set there. It looks like it has life in it. The characters interact with the world and fit in it. It’s not just the backdrop to whatever case is being ripped from the headlines.
Now, all that said, I do have a couple complaints. I know what you’re thinking. JUST A COUPLE? What is it, your lucky day? Hey! I’m coming off a cold! Don’t worry, though. I have a whole vitriolic Lost post in the works.
Complaint the first: Tamblyn’s character acts a little too non-chalant after killing a dude, especially as it’s her first day in Homicide and she’s pretty young and definitely green. I think she’d be a little more troubled.
Complaint the second: The super moral religious cop with a bad-boy background is telegraphing his “I’m the bad guy” vibe a little too much. He’s the one who finds the dude who supposedly killed Walsh’s partner (and ends up being shot and killed by Schraeger), he’s seen planting the cop’s gun and badge in the wall of the guy’s apartment and he keeps looking around with shifty eyes before making secretive phone calls that are all “They know! I’m in trouble here!” OK, show. I get it! He’s not a good guy.
But ultimately, The Unusuals reeled me in. I want to know their secrets and I’m willing to go along for the ride to find out. Let’s hope ABC is, too, because the ratings for the first episode weren’t that great. I blame Lost, which is this show’s lead-in and a sucking void of suck that will eventually bring the entire Alphabet network to its knees.