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Television Collision: The Guilty Pleasure of The Unit — A Eulogy

Written by: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer


ImageWhen it comes to serial television, though I watch a lot of it, I am not the easiest one to please. I treasure continuity more than most people, I want drama mixed with smart humor, I want characters with depth, I want surprising yet believable story twists and I want camera work that has cinematic quality and not the usual cross-cutting of close-ups we see too much of on TV. But I am also a sucker for the big dramatic storylines, invoking pathos and drawing on cultural mythology.
And if you combine all of this in the just the right way, you can get even me – a pacifistic, German female – to watch a show like CBS’ The Unit for four seasons.

Sadly, the show will not be returning this fall and its future had looked grim ever since the big Writers’ Strike. Hence I wasn’t surprised by the cancellation, also because the last episodes had been less than stellar, and yet I think I will miss this action packed show among my fall schedule of House, Bones, The Simpsons, Gossip Girl et al.

I am sure most of you know the basic plot of The Unit, but let me recap just in case:
The Unit is an undercover Special Forces unit, which poses as the 303rd Logistical Studies Unit for cover. Its commanding officer is Col. Tom Ryan and its members over time were Bob “Cool Breeze” Brown, Mack “Dirt Diver” Gerhardt, Charles “Betty Blue” Grey, Hector “Hammerhead” Williams, Bridget “Red Cap” Sullivan and Sam “Whiplash” McBride, while its leader always was Jonas “Top Dog” “Snake Doctor” Blane.

As The Unit they travel to countries the military officially doesn’t go (Bolivia, Iran, Syria, Ukraine, LaLa Land) and complete missions. Sometimes they just have to escort someone home, sometimes they have to eliminate dealers of weapons and supplies, sometimes they have to free hostages. You name it, they do it and they kill plenty of people while they are at it.

ImageThe whole show is based on the book “Inside Delta Force” by Eric Haynes and a lot of the missions are actually real missions Mr. Haynes participated in or has documentation of from his time in the Special Forces.
This fact alone is enough to make message boards for The Unit swell over with posts about the “realism” of the show. Military personnel of all ranks explain body armor, shooting techniques, abbreviations and other military jargon to the civilian public. It is quite informative and yet explicitly annoying, when people constantly bemoan that something on the show wasn’t “realistic”. As opposed to other TV shows, which depict real life such as… I can’t think of any.

I am one of those people who see and hate continuity errors with a passion, and yet I love The Unit. Most of the little inconsistencies I don’t pick up on, because I am not that deeply fascinated with military procedure or techniques. I just accept the show’s reality for what it is and go along for the ride. To this end I wasn’t the least bit outraged when they added a female member to The Unit the beginning of Season 4. “Purists” decried this as impossible, since there are no women in Special Forces, according to them, but I think it gave the show a great new dynamic, even though “Red Cap” was largely confined to headquarters and giving out information on the phone the longer the season ran.

ImageThe really great part about the show was that it incorporated the lives of the wives at home and what they have to deal with in every day life because of the job their husbands have. They have to lie, they have to get by without them and in the final season they even had to give up their identities (and in some cases their children) to ensure the safety of The Unit. Sure, if you want a more detailed look at the life of the women, maybe the show Army Wives is better suited for the task, but I think it gave The Unit depth to include the home life instead of cutting it out, because after all this home life is what gives the soldiers the strength and motivation to go on a lot of the time. That and their undying, patriotic love for America, of course.

This is the point where the show lost me at times. I guess it is indispensable for a soldier to love his country beyond reason, otherwise they never would have signed up for the job, but the level of American arrogance sometimes displayed through this patriotic loyalty is precisely what pisses the rest of the world off about America. Who are Americans to say they are better than anyone? Especially those Americans, who have never even been outside of their own state? And who are Americans to go ahead and mess in other countries’ affairs the way The Unit does? But then again a lot of countries have special forces and secret services and they are gonna use them too.

What reconciled me a bit with the patriotism in The Unit is the fact that I, too, like America and I have studied its cultural history. It is part of the Founding Mythology of America to invoke this “City upon a hill” attitude. Back in the day, the new Americans had to set themselves apart from their origin countries, and so they came up with a few mythological concepts they draw on to invoke unity. (Dig into the poetry and literature of the 19th Century for the birth of many of these symbols and myths.)

Image

I am too pretty to die.

It also helped the show a lot that it didn’t stop for a second to give you the chance to think about what you had just seen. Much like the summer blockbusters we all cherish in our own way (and don’t deny it neither, the numbers for The Dark Knight, Transformers and so on don’t lie!), The Unit blew shit up, killed the bad so the good could live and made our heroes look pretty while doing so.

In the early seasons the dialogue and scene structuring was still something to revel in, which I attribute in large parts to David Mamet, one of my favorite playwrights when it comes to simulating the way people speak. But as his involvement waned over time, so did the quality of The Unit. Perhaps it is best CBS pulled the plug now, before the writers managed to write it down any further. Sure, it would have been interesting to see Jonas’ exit from active duty and his transition into “normal life”, but the conspiracies were already getting too big to be topped in coming seasons (an assassination attempt on the BLACK President-elect is about as explosive as you can get).

This way I get to remember The Unit as a cool show, combining the wits of several MacGyver-type soldiers with the flash and boom of The A-Team, which equals geek heaven in my book.

 

Recommended Collisions with your Television

(combine at will, all times EST, only new programming listed)

 

Tuesday, June 30th
 
 8 p.m.
 The Superstars (ABC)
 9 p.m.
 Hawthorne (TNT)
 9:30 p.m.
 Better Off Ted (ABC)
 10 p.m.
 The Cleaner (A&E)
   Rescue Me (FX)
   Saving Grace (TNT)
   
Wednesday, July 1st  
 8 p.m.
 So You Think You Can Dance (Fox)
 9 p.m.
 
 10 p.m.
 The Philanthropist (NBC)
   
Thursday, July 2nd  
 8 p.m.
 Samantha Who? (ABC)
 8:30 p.m.
 In the Motherhood (ABC)
 9 p.m.
 So You Think You Can Dance – Results (Fox)
 10 p.m.
 The Listener (NBC)
   
Friday, July 3rd  
 8 p.m.
 
 9 p.m.
 Mental (Fox)
   
Saturday, July 4th
 
 8 p.m.
 Kings (NBC)
 9 p.m.
 
 10 p.m.
 Eli Stone (ABC)
   
Sunday, July 5th
 
 8 p.m.
 Merlin (NBC)
 9 p.m.
 
 10 p.m.
 Army Wives (Lifetime)
   
Monday, July 6th
 
 8 p.m.
 
 9 p.m.
 The Closer (TNT)
 10 p.m.
 Weeds (Showtime)
   Raising the Bar (TNT)
 10: 30 p.m.
 Nurse Jackie (Showtime)

 

  
      

 

Author: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer

Born in Germany, lived in the US, now in the UK. Always taking my love for TV and writing with me. Life participator. Blogger. Gaming enthusiast.

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