In the US: Tuesdays, 9pm et/pt, CBS
In the UK: Probably Bravo or Virgin 1
Characters re-cast: 0
Major characters gotten rid of: 0
Major new characters: 0
Format change percentage: 50%
Number of families running America still its independence: Five
There's a general assumption that the mainly excellent Bourne films have been a good thing. They made the Bond producers think twice about producing another piece of mindless rubbish; instead, they made the only slightly mindless Casino Royale.
Yet they appear to have had rather a bad effect of The Unit. Essentially a tale about the US's Delta special forces group (with names changed to give the plots a certain leeway), The Unit trod a thin line between being a spy show and being a show about the army. While it could be escapist at times, it did try to attain certain levels of realism and it did this best when it focused on the army side of the characters.
But the surprisingly bad influence of Jason Bourne has finally had an effect on The Unit – and his fingerprints are all over the first episode of the third season, right down to the music, and they haven't been planted this time.
To a certain extent, this was true of the second season, which had veered more towards the spy side of things with increasing regularity. Certainly, when we left our intrepid unit at the end of second season, there wasn't much of a unit anyway - they'd all disbanded, ending up in the stockade or on the run after being accused of war crimes, theft and more.
This still could have worked. They still could have held it together and maybe crafted a better version of Spooks or something. But, unfortunately, they've veered into stupid conspiracy theories with CIA death squads and America now apparently being run by five founding families. Oh dear.
For special forces soldiers, they're suddenly all a bit rubbish at things they should be good at, too. Jonas is running around without keeping an eye on where the baddie is likely to be in case he's firing at him; Bob can't hide up properly any more; suddenly they're all questioning each other about their motivations after having once entrusted their lives to each other. It's all to suggest increased danger, but it's more like bad writing.
The change towards spy show and away from army is clear from the opening credits. The original theme tune, based on the Marine Corp's running song, has been replaced by some rubbish bit of soft rock, while the title sequence, once redolent with army activity and people dressed in fatigues, now focuses on spy stuff and our heroes in suits.
Even the wives and girlfriends, once distinct and separate elements of the show used to illustrate how the families of the armed forces are affected by their loved ones' work, are being drafted into the spy storyline and the action, making it all even more implausible. The characters suffer, since they're now all about their partners' work rather than about trying to create their own lives.
It's not all bad. There are some good moments, when our heroes actually do something clever or there's quite a nice fight. But it's all going pear-shaped. The episode's cliffhanger is daft and the quick reset button I was hoping for never materialised. Maybe they'll head back to the barracks and get everything back into fighting shape by the end of the second part - I certainly hope so. At the moment, season three is shaping up as implausible spy theatrics.
- September 29, 2008: Review: The Unit 4x1
A review of the first episode of the fourth season of CBS's The Unit