The Unusuals (season one overview)


Rating 2½

Created by Noah Hawley

Written by Noah Hawley (three episodes), Alexi Hawley (one episode), Robert De Laurentiis (one episode), Sarah Watson (one episode), Gary Lennon (one episode), Treena Hancock (one episode), Melissa R Byer (one episode), Jorge Zamacona (one episode) and Danny Zuker (one episode

Directed by Stephen Hopkins (one episode), Constantine Makris (three episode), Jamie Babbit (one episode), Peter O’Fallon (one episode), Matt Earl Beesley (two episodes), Rosemary Rodriguez (one episode) and Edward Bianchi (one episode)

Starring Amber Tamblyn (Detective Casey Shraeger), Jeremy Renner (Detective Jason Walsh), Adam Goldberg (Detective Eric Delahoy), Harold Perrineau (Detective Leo Banks), Kai Lennox (Detective Eddie Alvarez), Joshua Close (Detective Henry Cole), Monique Gabriela Curnan (Detective Allison Beaumont), Terry Kinney (Sergeant Harvey Brown), Ian Kahn (Davis Nixon), Susan Parke (Dr Monica Crumb) and Kat Foster (Nicole Brandt)

Rookie police detective Casey Shraeger is pulled off Vice and transferred to the NYPD’s second Precinct to become the new partner of Detective Jason Walsh, on the same night that his old partner is murdered. Secretly, she is being recruited by Sergeant Harvey Brown to look for possible corruption within his team, each of the various detectives harbouring his or her own secrets.


‘The Unusuals’ was made by Sony Pictures Television and broadcast on the ABC network between 8 April and 17 June 2009. Ten episodes in total were made. Viewing figures reached a high of 6.8 million for the pilot episode and a low of 2.9 million for episode eight. In was announced in May 2009 that it would not return for a second season. The show was created by Noah Hawley, a former staff writer on the Fox network show ‘Bones’ and was promoted as a comedy-drama, a police procedural in the style of ‘M*A*S*H’. The influence is evident from the very start, but ‘The Unusuals’ fails almost entirely to emulate the brilliance of that much lauded, multi award winning series.

‘The Unusuals’ had a likeable cast, but seemingly it never decided what it wanted to be. None of the characters progressed much beyond being the vaguest of sketchy outlines and the initial premise seemed to fizzle out before going anywhere in particular. Although there was some humour, it wasn’t a comedy, even though it clearly drew inspiration from ‘Barney Miller’, a much loved comedy series that ran for eight seasons and 168 episodes between 1974 and 1982.

Each character was given a quirk, but then very little was done with it. Casey Shraeger was the daughter of extremely rich and powerful society parents and had a multi-million-dollar trust fund, but she kept this secret, wanting to be treated like everyone else and live like a “real person”. After the first few episodes, we barely ever saw her parents and when, halfway through the season, she admitted her background to her colleagues it made no difference whatsoever. Eric Delahoy was suffering from a brain tumour that he kept secret. This storyline never went anywhere, much as his relationship with the medical examiner proved to be an inconclusive dead end. His partner Leo Banks had a germ phobia and was convinced of his impending death. This seemingly reached a head in the eighth episode (‘The Dentist’), which was modelled on the classic Alfred Hitchcock film ‘Rear Window’, but there was no sense of an epiphany or any consequence seen afterwards. The same desperate lack of focus and depth affected all the other regular lead characters.

Perhaps most inexplicable is the storyline involving Henry Cole, a born-again Christian who hides a criminal past. That seems to catch up with him and results in this partner being shot. He is also indirectly implicated in the death of the partner of Jason Walsh, but although Walsh discovers the truth, he seems perfectly ready to cover it up because the force always looks after its own. I thought this storyline was a mess that became increasingly unbelievable. More so than that, ultimately there simply did not seem to be any point to it, a problem that affected so many things in the show.

‘M*A*S*H’ worked so brilliantly because the characters were memorable and the show achieved a perfect mix between comedy and making a serious statement about the reality of war. In the ten episodes of ‘The Unusuals’ the characters didn’t go anywhere and the show had nothing much to say. This meant that the implausible nature of many of the cases investigated was brought into sharp relief and instead of being quirky and humorously idiosyncratic they just ended up being silly and too far-fetched. Of course, ten episodes is not long enough to really establish a great deal and perhaps had the show survived into a second season many of these early problems would have been resolved.

In its favour, ‘The Unusuals’ had a more than competent cast who made it very easy to watch. Adam Goldberg is always very watchable and Amber Tamblyn is surely one of the best actresses of her generation. There was the grain of a good idea here and it is quite possible the show could have ironed out some of the early flaws given more time. However, the nature of American network television these days means that very few shows are given more than a handful of episodes to prove themselves – we need only to think back to ‘Wonderfalls’, a show that premiered on the Fox network in March 2004 and was cancelled after just four episodes, even though it showed obvious promise.

I have been critical of it, but I enjoyed watching ‘The Unusuals’ and its early demise is disappointing, although not at all surprising and probably not unwarranted.

Review posted 21 June 2009


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