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Green Bay Press-Gazette

Monday, April 13, 2009

The usual from "The Unusuals?"

Having been burned by another quirky ABC cop show, "Life on Mars," I was somewhat hesitant to give an hour to "The Unusuals" premiere last Wednesday.

So I did what any half-assed TV viewer with a DVR would do. I recorded it and waited until absolutely nothing else was on this weekend before investing that all-too important 60 minutes.

Channel Surfing loyalists will remember that after the "Mars" pilot, I wrote about the show potentially being something special or truly dreadful. Well, it went straight into the latter camp after only four of five episodes -- and then ultimately killed any remaining goodwill by offering up that colossal turd of a finale.

Viewers of "The Unusuals" shouldn't anticipate such an easy love-hate proposition from the show, at least for now.

First off, "The Unusuals" -- and the promotion blitz leading to Wednesday's premiere -- proved a bit misleading. Other than a dispatcher offering up kooky calls -- "be on the lookout for a man in a hot dog costume ... who may or may not be wielding a samurai sword" -- there really wasn't too much that was out-of-bounds during the first episode. Each main cop character has a quirk or two, but nothing that would scream that New York's 2nd precinct is staffed by a bunch of X-Men-like mutants.

Amber Tamblyn ("Joan of Arcadia") plays Casey Shreager, a Harvard rich girl turned rookie detective who is moved off the vice beat after a cop named Kowalski is killed. Kowalski's former partner, Jason Walsh (Jeremy Renner), is a former New York Yankees first baseman who also owns a crappy diner. Other memorable faces in the precinct include Det. Eric Dalahov (Adam Goldberg of "Saving Private Ryan"), who has a brain tumor he refuses to acknowledge, Det. Leo Banks (Harold Perrineau of "Lost"), who always wears a Kevlar vest because he believes his age is cursed due to family history, and Det. Eddie Alvarez (Kai Lennox), an incompetent press whore who constantly refers to himself in the third person ala "Seinfeld's" Jimmy.

Kind of unusual, sure. But the guiding plot of the show so far -- tracking down Kowalski's killer while discovering that there are corrupt cops in the shop -- hardly seems unconventional. Secrets, however, are a big deal -- Tamblyn's pampered past, Goldberg's tumor/supposed death wish and Perrineau's paralyzing fear. It would appear that those skeletons will stretch beyond the usual flawed-cop-as-alcoholic-and-womanizer archetype perfected and dissected by other police dramas. But in case it doesn't, Renner's character made sure to point that out in a soliloquy about broken-down cops acting as the people's garbage men.

At least during the first episode, I found the show to be more humorous than dramatic. Goldberg's role has a lot of dark potential, and it's good to see Perrineau sinking his teeth into someone who's doing more than just pining for his lost son ("WAAAAAAAAAAAALT!") Both also have a bickering old couple rapport that's highly entertaining. Tamblyn doesn't really bust out in the pilot, but a well-to-do girl trying to break into the boys club definitely has some pull. She plays a still-sexy plain Jane nicely.

As for cons: the cop corruption angle is pretty blah. I'd rather watch an "unusual" cop show that had a "Pushing Daisies"-like charm by way of introducing crazy criminals like evil candy shop owners and creepy olfactory experts. There's a reason "Pushing Daisies" got canned, I suppose. "The Unusuals" also stole a "Wire" bit (which was a "Homicide" bit) by using a copy machine as a makeshift lie detector. Then again, Dukie from "The Wire" makes a cameo in the "Unusuals" pilot, so no points lost.

Overall, "The Unusuals" showed enough in one episode to earn another viewing. It'll probably be a days-later DVR one though, as the post-"Lost" spot on ABC's schedule has been a kiss of death, so I refuse to get emotionally invested. Instead, I'll limit the time commitment and proceed with caution -- which is what you should probably do if you see a guy in a hot dog costume wielding a samurai sword.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,



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