TV

The Unusuals: Series Premiere

ABC's new NYC cop show premieres tonight and Cynthia Fuchs says "it's not new or challenging or even very strange. It is, however, plenty quirky."

The Unusuals

Airtime: Wednesdays, 10pm ET
Cast: Amber Tamblyn, Jeremy Renner, Adam Goldberg, Harold Perrineau Jr., Terry Kinney
MPAA rating: N/A
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: ABC
US release date: 2009-04-08
Website
Trailer
Amazon

Don't treat me like a girl. I'm fine.

-- Detective Casey Shraeger (Amber Tamblyn)

How many shows about New York begin with a shot of the Statue of Liberty? If you haven't kept count, rest assured, the number is high. Still, as The Unusuals opens on this mobile frame, descending to dark streets where cars and hookers cross paths, you might feel some small sense of surprise. For one thing, Amber Tamblyn is among those night ladies. When she observes, that traffic is slow tonight, a fellow underdressed, over-mascaraed worker sighs, "It's the economy, girl." Tamblyn, playing the undercover vice squad detective Casey, has a snappy retort: "Either that, or the allure of screwing a stranger under the bridge has died out."

Topical, too self-righteously clever, and just barely edgy, it's the sort of line you expect to hear on TV, not the sort that someone without a writing staff might come up with. Again, The Unusuals is looking pretty usual.

That's not to say it doesn't try to be otherwise. Within a minute or so, Casey is on the phone with her mother, who's worried her maid is stealing from her (Casey's a good, if frustrated, daughter), and receiving instructions on how to "seduce" johns in her earpiece: "Shake your hips a little" (she's not an expert, but TV-style sassy). And a minute later, she's swooped up by Sgt. Brown (Terry Kinney) and sent over to Homicide. When a dispatcher's voice begins introducing post-commercial returns with Only-in-New-York calls ("Suspects are elderly twins in matching pink and white sweaters"), the show makes clear its premise: it's not new or challenging or even very strange. It is, however, plenty quirky.

Cases in point: Casey's new teammates at the 2nd Precinct. Each has his or her own "secret" (one only looks super-straight, another only seems overly emotional). She's assigned to tag along with Walsh (Jeremy Renner), visibly reeling from the murder of his old partner, "a bully and a drunk" whose own secrets emerge during the investigation that takes up much of the premiere episode. Casey and Walsh go through the regular steps, cleaning out the locker (that is, confiscating what appears to be drug stash Vic Mackey might keep better hidden), visiting the grieving wife ("He was all flaws, but he was good to me"), and chastising the big-bosomed mistress ("I go to church, I got a mother, I'm not some home-wrecker").

Throughout this getting-to-know-you portion of our program, Casey does her best to hide her wealthy family and fancy education opportunities (after being kicked out of six private schools, she left college to pursue her cop dreams). It's her money, apparently, that makes her Brown's choice to partner with Walsh. "I need somebody who can't be bribed or intimidated," he says, the last part ostensibly evidenced when she adeptly guns down a suspect who's shooting at her squadmates. Unlike, say, rookie Ben (Benjamin McKenzie) in Southland, Casey doesn't worry too much about her capacity for violence. Instead, she's focused on what it means to be the outsider only just welcomed inside, who's then supposed to inform on her new buddies.

Everyone looks both potentially shady and principled, and no one looks especially trustworthy. Eric (Adam Goldberg) seems mesmerized by his own death (he's the one standing on the subway track before an oncoming train in the show's promos) while his partner Banks (Harold Perrineau) is terrified of it (to the point that he won't remove his bulletproof vest). Other signifying characteristics are less existential: practical-minded Beaumont (Monique Curnen) mouths off (she admonishes a whiny suspect in a hotdog costume, "Snack foods don't get a lawyer") and extra-ambitious Eddie Alvarez (Kai Lennox) speaks of himself in the third person.

The Unusuals likes to underscore its oddities. While the search for detective Kowalski's killer provides drama, the pursuit of a cat-killer offers comedy (a storyline not so offbeat or funny as the self-entertaining cops seem to think). The mix of tones and interests suggests the show has more on its mind than procedural plotting and cops' banter. As Casey steps into what seems a mess -- of roiling resentments, nervous expectations, and apparent payback schedules -- she is appropriately observant but also self-assured. This makes her an unusual girl in a cop show, not a sidekick (though Walsh might think she is) and not naive or idealistic (though Brown presumes this). If her mother's (Joanna Gleason) nattering phone calls are already dull and her father's (Chris Sarandon) doubts about her career completely predictable, Casey seems primed to push past the obvious. A former Dalton classmate runs into her in the precinct hallways, then threatens to expose her past as "Princess of Park Avenue." Casey instantly pushes back: it appears that Miss Doesn't Know How to Shake Her Hips has got game.

Casey's survival at the 2nd -- not to mention the show's survival -- depends on such surprises. "It's the NYPD," Brown advises, "If you're not a little confused, you're not paying attention." It's the sort of line only cops with writers utter, but maybe that's okay. "Nothing in this world is what it seems," he continues ominously, on his way out of frame. Let's hope so.

6

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image