Review: The Unit 1×1 – How cool is Dennis Haysbert?

Dennis Haybert: the coolest man alive

Dennis Haysbert: you know him right? He’s been around for ages. I first saw him in Suture, in which he played the absolutely identical twin brother of a white guy – a white guy who didn’t have an eye-patch like him. But he was also the getaway driver in Heat, was the government guy in Now and Again, and is best known as ex-President Palmer in 24 – Palmer being the only man in the world Jack “Harder than Chuck Norris” Bauer respects. He’s a cool guy, basically. But how cool?

I’ll tell you how cool he is. He now has his own show, one specially written for him by David Mamet.

Yes. David Mamet, the manliest of modern American playwrights. If David Mamet had one tenth the testosterone level of his scripts combined, he’d be able to knock out a charging bull with his bare hands. He’s that manly.

But The Unit, as Haysbert’s new show is called, is even manlier than David Mamet channelling the spirit of Ernest Hemingway in a Living TV seance. For starters, it’s based on Inside Delta Force, a book written by the founder of America’s answer to the SAS, Eric Haney. For no doubt a whole host of legal reasons, The Unit isn’t actually about Delta Force, but a thinly veiled version of Delta Force that goes undercover in Afghanistan one day and then on their day off foil hijackings of commercial jets. If ‘The Unit’ could talk, it would have to kill you afterwards.

The show is both good and awful. When dealing with the aforementioned hijacking, it’s very tense and impressive. Blink too many times and the spell that makes you think Scott Foley (Elliott’s ex-boyfriend in Scrubs) is capable of speaking Arabic and knifing people in the throat will wear off, but as tales of daring-do go it’s a lot closer to reality, I suspect, that the fabulous wonderland that is 24. It certainly makes Ross Kemp and Ultimate Force look like a bunch of Nancies.

It also manages to deal with the personal lives of the soldiers in a reasonably uninsulting way, while simultaneously recycling every cliché in the book. We get to meet all the Unit’s wives, who are a mix of the long-suffering, the cheating and the Independent Woman Who Wants Her Husband To Be More Emotionally Involved In the Family And Won’t Be Treated As A Second-Class Citizen By The Army. You know the type.

But there’s simply so much manliness going around, there’s a surplus that can be ladelled out to the wives as well. You could talk about The Unit if you wanted to, but then one of the wives would have to kill you.

Where it falls down quite drastically is when dealing with non-US affairs. Have a look at this picture of Haysbert and one of his comrades undercover in Afghanistan:

Undercover in Afghanistan. Really

Now if you were Afghanistani and you saw these guys in your local pub, would you, even for one second, think they weren’t Americans? No, neither would I. It’s not a fatal flaw – show me one TV series that properly manages to pull off International (don’t even think of saying Alias) – but it’s still more laughable than The West Wing‘s attempts (although not as insulting as Commander in Chief‘s).

If The Unit can confine itself to domestic US operations and maintain the same level of quality as Mamet’s opening episode, it’s going to be worth watching. However, I foresee a certain amount of jingoism in the near future that it’ll find hard to avoid. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for it.

But there’ll be one thing The Unit proves: you shouldn’t mess with Haysbert.

  • ER’s Africa bits were quite convincing…

  • Can I just say that Dennis Haysbert is truly cool, and if anyone can pull off working for Mamet in full masculine mode – “even manlier than David Mamet channelling the spirit of Ernest Hemingway in a Living TV seance” – then Haysbert is the man for it.
    Likelihood of seeing this in the UK???

  • Marie: I’ll take your word for it, but if their depiction of life in Africa was as realistic as their depiction of life in a typical emergency room, I might need a recount on that one.
    Lisa: Chances are pretty good – first episode of The Unit was a real ratings storm in the US, as was the second episode last night. Variety gives the full ratings insight, but it had only a 4% drop-off from the first week in the key demographics, which means its liable to stay the course and will probably get picked up by a UK network. As to which network it would end up on, I suspect either ITV2 or ITV4, since that’s where Numb3rs – another CBS programme – ended up. More4 might, seeing as they’ve done a volte face and picked up Commander in Chief. We might get lucky and see Sky One pick it up – or even Five, although Five is dead keen on the more cerebral US shows.
    It’s still arse, of course – a programme like this should be primetime on one of the main networks, but we’ve suddenly got allergic to putting on US shows on the main networks. It got us through the 80s and we were probably better for it, but not so much now. Sigh.
    Incidentally: second episode – not as good as the first by a long chalk, but the ‘African’ mission wasn’t totally awful. Mamet’s still exec producing, but he should really be trying his hand at script editing or even show running, too. If it’s good enough for Steve Bocho on Over Here and Commander in Chief, it’s good enough for Mamet, I reckon.

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