THE WASHINGTON POST EXPRESS began its review of CBS's new drama, The Unit, with the following: "Just when you thought that mindless flag-waving, fear-mongering and Arab-stereotyping were starting to fade, here comes 'The Unit' . . . which ignores the realities of the 'war on terror' mire while frolicking in the shallowest jingoistic puddle."
Needless to say, my interest was piqued. I'm nothing, if not a shallow jingoist.
Based on the book Inside Delta Force by Eric L. Haney, The Unit was created by David Mamet and, along with Mamet, is produced with Shawn Ryan (the creator of The Shield). The show delivers on this impressive pedigree, combining the best of Fox's 24 and ABC's Desperate Housewives.
(You can almost imagine the meeting at CBS about six months back: "You know what two shows are great? 24 and Desperate Housewives. I know . . . how about a show revolving around the Delta Force and their attractive wives! Ratings gold!")
The Unit premiered last Tuesday and kicked off with a bang: The squad (led by 24's Dennis Haysbert, whose character is part Jack Bauer and part David Palmer) calls in an air strike on an arms dealer and then seemingly melts into the Afghan desert as a terrorist militia tries to find them. From there, the Unit takes down a team of terrorists who have hijacked an airplane full of businessmen and are planning on blowing it up as soon as the national media arrives. In the process, two members of the team perform a HAHO (High Altitude, High Opening) jump and Haysbert circumvents posse comitatus, threatens to shoot three FBI agents if they interfere with the assault, and kills the entire team of terrorists before they can blow up the plane. It's all in a day's work.
The other half of the show focuses on the wives left behind while their husbands are out saving the country. The wives form a unit almost as tight as the soldiers themselves, lending support to each other while their men are in the field. When a newcomer doesn't seem to understand just what it means to be a Delta (or a Delta wife), queen bee Regina Taylor sits her down and spells it out. But all is not well in the wife camp; one gal is cheating on her husband with the base commander, who's played by Robert Patrick.
More interesting than the infidelities, however, are the subplots running through the home lives of the Unit. When Kim (the new wife, played by Audrey Marie Anderson) turns on the news to see how the hijacking is progressing, the child of another Unit member explains that her father doesn't allow her to watch the news because there's "no truth in the news, and no news in the truth."
Manipulating the media is a running theme of Mamet's; in his most recent film, Spartan, the death of the president's daughter is faked, but the public is told that a DNA test confirmed it was her. When the hero finds out the girl is still alive, he asks a secret service agent "How did they fake the DNA?" The agent responds "You don't fake DNA. You issue a press release." This manipulation continues at the end of The Unit's premiere episode, when the press accepts the president's description of the operation (where Haysbert threatened the FBI agents) as "a perfect example of coordinated, interagency cooperation."
Conservatives have long been clamoring for a Hollywood vehicle that shows the war on terror for what it is: a struggle against terrorists who just so happen to be murderous, Islamic nutcases. The Unit delivers this and more: an indictment of the media, a rarely seen portrayal of military family life, and all the action you can pack into an hour. As a new Delta explains near the end of the first hour: "You get to shoot guns, jump out of airplanes, and come home to your family. It's damn near perfect."
The Unit airs on CBS at 9:00 p.m. est on Tuesday.
Sonny Bunch is an assistant editor at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.