The Unusuals: Pilot (series premiere)
by Mike Moody, posted Apr 9th 2009 11:38AM
(S01E01) ABC's quirky new crime procedural is not the brilliant blend of drama and absurd comedy the network might want it to be, but it does have a few good things going for it. First, there's the great cast. It's hard to pick a favorite among these talented TV vets, but series star Amber Tamblyn is genuine and beleiveable as Casey Shraeger, a detective working to weed out corruption in a kooky NYPD homicide unit, one of her first grown-up roles. Jeremy Renner, adding some Nathan Fillion-esque goofiness to his all-around good guy persona, is a good fit for Detective Jason Walsh, Tamblyn's possibly duplicitous partner.
I'm convinced that Lost's Harold Perrineau can do almost anything, even turn a one-note character like Detective Leo Banks, who's obsessed with the idea that he'll die at the age of 42, into something special. Perrineau didn't exactly get the best material here, but he and partner Adam Goldberg, playing a nervous depressive who is actually dying, managed to elevate their short scenes together.
Another thing The Unusuals has going for it is an intriguing mystery. The ep started with Casey getting recruited to the Second Precinct to fill the shoes of Det. Burt Kowalski, who was seemingly killed on the job. She teamed up with Walsh, Kowalski's former partner, to investigate the murder. The investigation lead to some, er, unusual findings, including Kowalski's burned down storage locker full of revealing case files on his co-workers.
Casey's new boss Sgt. Brown (Terry Kinney) revealed that he hired her to root out the corrupt cops in his department. We learned that some among this zany team of investigators are not who they say they are, and that they're all keeping big secrets. The final scene even cast suspicion on Walsh, the only male character who seemed sane enough to relate to Casey.
The mystery and strong performances might be enough to hook some viewers, but the show's odd mixture of absurdity and standard police drama isn't for everyone. The premiere was loaded with too much contrived quirkiness (a perp dressed as a hot dog, twin grandmas getting booked, a clueless detective who constantly refers to himself in the third person). Some of the gags hit (the odd dispatch calls were funny), but most of them seemed out of place, inorganic or, at worse, stolen from the last few years of Night Court.
And speaking of stealing, that copy machine/lie detector scene worked a lot better on The Wire.
This first episode moved along at a confident and rapid pace, but the tone was all over the place. It was diverting at best, artificial and labored at worst. It looks like ABC might have greenlit another oddball cop show that will likely get yanked before its mysteries are revealed.